Grow sumptuously scented flowers for bees, butterflies, gardens & vases!

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.

Hesperis matronalis is available as a mauve flowered form and a white form. Why not grow both?

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.

Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora flowers produce a sweet fragrance that’s is akin to that of a Dianthus or old fashioned ‘Pink’. The perfume has a hint of clove and a touch of pepper, blended with an intoxicating sweetness.

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.

Hesperis matronalis adds a gentle softness and a beautiful scent to the garden.

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.

Larger bumble bees also stop to feed from Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora flowers, in my garden.

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.

Hesperis matronalis and Camassia leichtlinii mingle with Phalaris arundinacea var. picta ‘Feesey’.

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.

I’ve found that Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora flowers attract a wide range of bees and butterflies, including this mini bee.

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.

Alliaria petiolata is a biennial that’s often called Jack-by-the-hedge, hedge garlic, or garlic mustard. This is an easy to grow plant that self-seeds happily in almost any situation but thrives in shade or partial shade.
A caterpillar devouring a Lunaria annua (Honesty) leaf in my garden.

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.

Lunaria annua produces silvery white, translucent seed heads, which add a luminescent quality to the garden and to dried flower arrangements.

For more gardening advice for May, please click here.

This article was first published in the May 2021 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.

Other articles that may interest you………..

To read about more plants that are brilliant for bees and butterflies, please click here.

For articles about edible gardening, please click here.

For more ideas of plants to grow for cut flowers, please click here.

For even more ideas of plants for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, please click here.

For more wildlife gardening ideas, please click here.

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One thought on “Grow sumptuously scented flowers for bees, butterflies, gardens & vases!

  1. Judy

    May 7, 2021 at 6:51am

    Great article on Hesperus matronalis.

    • Author
  2. Malcolm Storey

    May 7, 2021 at 10:34am

    We grow it too and it’s a lovely plant but beware the info on the packet: they happily grow to 4ft, so put them at the back. (Of course in following years they’ll apear where they choose!)

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      May 7, 2021 at 11:12am

      Hello Malcolm, it’s nice to hear from you. I hope this message finds you well and hope you’re enjoying time in your garden. Best wishes, Beth

  3. Victor

    May 17, 2021 at 9:20am

    Hi Beth,
    I have enjoyed reading this article, and it was a special bonus to find out that this plant supports the Orange-tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, which is one of the joys of every Spring, for me.
    I am definitely going to get these seeds into our little patch of garden.
    Thanks so much!

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      May 17, 2021 at 9:49am

      Thank you so much, Victor. I am so glad that you enjoyed reading this article. I love the Orange-tip butterfly, I always feel my heart leap in excitement when I see the males with their instantly recognisable orange-tipped wings. I hope that your garden will be filled with butterflies! Best wishes, Beth

  4. Karen Brandel

    April 28, 2023 at 10:11pm

    I was very surprised to see Alliaria petiolata, or garlic mustard on your list of flowers to plant for bees and butterflies. It is an EXTREMELY invasive plant, causing great damage to forest ecosystems in the north and midwestern United States. There are many articles on the internet explaining it’s destructive behavior. Here’s just one example from The Nature Conservancy:
    I worked as the interpreter (naturalist) at our local state park, and I continue to educate people about invasive species. I’ve put fliers in mailboxes of house where it grows in disturbed areas by the road. I’ve spent hours pulling these plants. I’ve seen firsthand how they spread and take over areas, crowding out native vegetation. Please read some articles and consider amending your article. Thank you! — Concerned in Michigan

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      April 28, 2023 at 11:24pm

      Hello Karen

      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your concerns about Alliaria petiolata. Here in the UK, Alliaria petiolata is one of our native wild flowers, it’s a food plant for butterflies, and bees and pollinators love the flowers. I understand that in the United States and in other countries Alliaria petiolata has caused problems and has become invasive. I would never recommend that anyone in the US (or in any other areas where Alliaria petiolata is a problem) grew this plant. Thank you for getting in touch and thank you for raising awareness of the problems caused by introducing invasive species.

      Best wishes

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