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Cornucopia - Why grow Pulmonarias

Why grow Pulmonarias
Sally-Ann Turner

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you grow pulmonarias? Did you make a conscious effort to buy your first one or were you lucky enough to be given one which sparked off an interest in collecting more?

My first one came from a friend as ‘Soldiers and Sailors’ and it was fun to find out its botanical name and learn what growing conditions it needed. Little did I know then just how interested in the genus I was to become!

There are several reasons why I grow pulmonarias:

  • Originally, in the late 1980s my interest developed because it seemed that very few people were growing many except P. officinalis, P. saccharata, P. rubra and the few cultivars in general circulation at the time. I enjoyed the challenge of searching out pulmonarias that were not readily available and made many friends along the way. By the mid 1990s I had a collection of over 100 pulmonarias and was painfully aware of the challenge of growing so many in my very dry part of Essex. Needless-to-say I have very few remaining now not only because of prolonged dry spells and higher summer temperatures but also owing to the problems caused by moles. Incidentally the so-called ‘mole bulbs’ I wrote about in a previous issue were useless! I’ve also lost several as a result of over-propagation and now give my remaining stock plants at least two years rest before splitting them again.
  • I love the flower shapes and colours of pulmonarias and have a special fondness for the blue-violet flowers of P. 'Diana Clare'; the soft blue of P. officinalis 'Blue Mist'; the white with a pink eye of P. o. 'White Wings'; the opalescent blue of Opal [='Ocupol'] and 'Mrs Kittle'; the pale pink of 'Vera May' [AGM]; the unusual red of 'Duke’s Silver'; the vibrant blue of 'Blue Ensign'; the red and white stripes of P. rubra 'Barfield Pink' and P. r. 'Ann' and, of course, the pink and blue stripes of 'Chintz' - to name but a few! Two pulmonarias that I still miss very much are P. officinalis 'Coral' which had unusual light peachy-pink flowers with corollas that were often deformed or split which added to their charm and the true 'Corsage' which had quite large pale blue and pink flowers that seemed to glisten – lovely.
  • A very good reason to grow pulmonarias is that they flower at a time when bees are desperate for nectar and it is very satisfying to be working in the garden accompanied by the humming of bees as they flit from one pulmonaria to another.
  • But it’s the foliage of many that I find most appealing. For those of us who struggle to grow hostas well, there are many pulmonarias with equally attractive leaves and which don’t end up looking like lace curtains! Who can resist the summer basal foliage of 'Diana Clare' (greenish-silvery leaves with darker green edging); the unusual combination of shades of green and whitish-cream of P. rubra 'Rachel Vernie'; the well blotched markings on the dark green background of Opal and oh so many, many more? I remember seeing a very well-grown specimen of 'Trevi Fountain' (alas not in my garden) which showed to perfection not only the silvery blotched green leaves but also the almost cascading habit of the foliage which, with imagination, did resemble a fountain. I think there are very few pulmonarias whose summer foliage is not attractive.
  • Another excellent reason for growing pulmonarias, especially if one can give them humus-rich soil in dappled shade, is that they tend to be very easy and fairly long-lived plants. We all know that they hate having their fleshy roots confined to a pot for very long but once they are settled happily in the ground they are rarely troubled by many pests or diseases.
  • An added bonus of growing several pulmonarias is the likelihood of seedlings appearing all over the garden although some do spring up in unexpected places like cracks in the path or in the middle of a lavender bush! Obviously not all seedlings are worth keeping but I have had several that are interesting enough to keep although I wouldn’t dream of naming them!

First published in the Pulmonaria Group Newsletter, Spring 2010
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 27.
© Copyright for this article: Sally-Ann Turner

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2011. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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