The Rewards of Patience

Two years ago, with the extensive work on our house slowly coming towards the end, and parts of the garden being finally cleared of rubble, I ordered a small selection of biennial seeds in a flash of optimism that at last I could begin to grow something towards the garden we would be creating. Sown in August, all germinated well in the greenhouse, and somehow survived a rather erratic program of watering, pricking out and moving on, during days beset with distraction from the house.

Salvia turkestanica - sowing and growing

The choice of biennials proved to be a canny one, as, like many similar schemes, our work up at the house continued to stretch out even after the main construction was completed. It was almost another year before the garden could fully win our attention and most of those plants could be planted into the newly dug borders, and thus it is this year that we are finally being rewarded for our patience with a show of flowers.

The first of this selection to bloom has been the sweetly scented Dianthus barbatus Nigricans, the dark almost-black velvety sweet williams at the front of the borders. They stand tall amongst tumbling hardy geraniums and the lax stems of Gaura lindheimeri, which form a pleasing contrast, graced with fluttering white flowers.

Dianthus barbatus Nigricans

In the last couple of weeks, another spectacle has been unfolding before us: Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica. Through the first year, these produced large rosettes of wonderfully crinkled felted leaves, many growing over 20cm long, which sat patiently in the ground until this spring, when suddenly the plants began to push up tall. This substantial foliage forms a great contrast to smaller-leaved plants nearby.

Foliage and buds of Salvia turkestanica (S. sclarea var. sclarea)

A number of pink-tinted buds shyly pushed out, each seemingly comprised of a number of overlapping scales arching downwards, so that the effect was of an armoured elephant trunk unfurling.

Salvia sclarea var. Turkestanica bud emerging

These have continued to elongate and take on more colour, finally pushing themselves upright to produce wonderful spikes of delicate pink specked flowers in mauve-pink bracts, standing about a metre tall. They work well with the dark purple opium poppies, and the similarly toned pink Linaria purpurea Canon Went.

Salvia turkestanica (S. sclarea var. sclarea) flowers and bracts

Salvia sclarea var Turkestanica flowers, white and pink with lilac bracts

The last of these sowings are the even more majestic Campanula pyramidalis, or chimney bellflower, both white and blue varieties. Their small tight rosettes have also sent up tall stems in the past few months, one or two that have been curved and curled by the wind and rain, which should soon erupt into fountains of stars towards the back of the borders.

Campanula pyramidalis stems

There is something particularly pleasing in watching these plants reach maturity after two years of patience and less than optimal conditions.

Salvia turkestanica (S. sclarea var. sclarea) flowering in border


11 thoughts on “The Rewards of Patience

  1. A reward for your patience indeed; I find orgaising growing biennials difficult but if they do make it into the garden, then I’m happy to let them self seed so that then the work is done for me. I too have Salvia turkescanica. Have you noticed that it doesn’t begin to have the terrible smelling leaves (not for nothing is its common name ‘housemaid’s armpits) until the flower spike is fully errectand the flowers open. Beware when you cut it down! Christina

    • I read recently about the armpit smell (and its common name), and true to form the plants do have a rather pungent scent now – but you have to really press your nose into the plants to catch it so far. I’ll be wary when we come to cut them down then, thank you for the warning. 🙂
      I’ve sown some wallflowers and more sweet williams for next year already, and am planting out early-sown foxglove seedlings into the garden, hopefully they will at least self-seed in years to come. I do quite like sowing biennials though, as the potting bench and tray-stands are far less congested by now, and it’s not such a trial to organise them, but I’m happy for them to take over themselves in years to come.

  2. Some good choices there, Sara. Foresight is a good skill for a gardener!
    I love your phrase “less than optimal conditions” BTW – you should have been a politician!

  3. I am very fond of biennials, and think they put on a great show in the garden, I am eyeing up my Campanula pyramidalis (alba) daily, just waiting for the flowers to appear! If you like biennials that self seed, do try Verbascum blattaria var. album, I think it is a real delight, let me know if you would like some seed

    • I’ve only seen C. pyramidalis flower in pictures, having never grown it before or seen it out and about, so I am watching ours closely too. I’ve also forgotten where I put the whites and where the blues, so that should be eye-opening too *blush*.
      Your V. b.v.a. looks lovely and airy, similar to V. chaixii Album which I have yet to flower, but a smaller footprint and more dainty. I’d love to try some seed!

      • I will save you some seed when it sets later in the year ….. as long as we have some sunshine to ripen it! email me your postal address when you have time and I will send you some 🙂

  4. I’m a big fan of biennials and have cold frames full of recently sown seedlings. It fills me with excitement because it makes me think of next year and possibly a summer with not so much rain!

  5. I have that Salvia – first grew it about five years ago and there is generally one or two appearing in the garden each year so it self sows but not much. I love watching its flowers unfurl

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