I remember heading out on a sunny day in May, some years ago now. My new raised bed was completed, so I was heading over to my allotment, filled with excitement and armed with an open packet of Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora seeds. Somewhat comically, I tripped up en route, throwing myself and the entire contents of my seed packet down onto my neighbour, Caroline’s allotment.
Fast forward to the following spring, when Caroline’s allotment boasted a quite miraculous floral display! My Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora plants had grown in amongst Caroline’s Jerusalem Artichokes, where they were producing an abundance of flowers and had attracted many admirers! I confessed the truth of this ‘miracle’ to Caroline, revealing where these heavenly scented flowers came from. I wanted to share this memory with you, to demonstrate just how easy it is to grow Hesperis matronalis plants from seed; they really don’t need any special treatment.
Often called ‘sweet rocket’, Hesperis matronalis are amiable plants that produce country cottage style flowers with an enviable softness. White and mauve flowered forms of Hesperis matronalis are available; both cultivars produce charming clouds of blooms that have an intoxicating sweet yet spicy perfume, with a hint of clove. Hesperis matronalis is an absolute darling of a plant; it’s ever so pretty, with divinely scented flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and moths.
Sow Hesperis matronalis seeds this month and your plants will flower next spring. Hesperis matronalis flowers last well in a vase. I deadhead my Hesperis matronalis flowers every few weeks, which encourages the plants to bloom continuously, from May to November.
These easy-going, hardy biennials thrive in almost any aspect, from sunshine to shade and they’ll flourish in all well-drained soils. Another blessing is that Hesperis matronalis plants are drought tolerant. Hesperis matronalis enhance borders but they’re happy growing in containers, too.
I find the white flowered form of Hesperis matronalis adds a touch of sparkle to a woodland style garden; it positively lights up areas of dappled shade and stands out as the sun begins to set. Swathes of Hesperis matronalis look divine! Seeds can simply be scattered directly over the soil or sown in containers of peat-free compost.
Hesperis matronalis are a food plant for the caterpillars of Orange-tip butterflies; a beautiful butterfly, named after the handsome orange-tipped wings the male butterflies display. If you find caterpillars on your Hesperis, I’d encourage you to share your plants with these fascinating insects. Want to help Orange-tip Butterflies? Simply grow more of their caterpillars’ food plants; these include: Cardamine pratensis, Lunaria annua (Honesty), and Alliaria petiolata, which can also be grown from seed this month, to produce flowers next spring.
To help bees and butterflies, don’t spray any insecticides or pesticides. Instead, sow Hesperis matronalis, Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora, Cardamine pratensis, Lunaria annua, and Alliaria petiolata seeds, and you’ll enjoy delightful blooms, (plus Honesty’s stunning seed heads) every year. For more articles about caterpillar food plants, please click here.
For more gardening advice for May, please click here.
This article was first published in the May 2021 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.
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