Sunday, 30 May 2021

Happy accident - Lunaria annua (Annual Honesty)

Every so often, "one" comes across a happy accident in the garden: maybe two plants, which make an unexpectedly good contrast, or which go surprisingly well together.

Or a hitherto unseen combination of light, shade, and plants: sometimes only for a fleeting moment.

Here's one I encountered one September morning,  a couple of years back: it was early in the morning, the sun was shining through the Mulberry branches, and the previous week, I had used my last ten minutes at work in this garden, to do a bit of Honesty-stripping. 

Annual Honesty - Lunaria annua - is a plant which we don't grow for the purple flowers which it produces in summer:  we grow it for the amazing seed pods which follow the flowers, appearing in September.

Many people who grow this plant don't realise that the trick is to gently feel away the ugly brown outer layer of the seed pods, to reveal the white, silk-like inner membrane.

That is the part which looks so spectacular.

There are many ways to do it: you can gently rub them between finger and thumb, or you can gently bend back the tip, then peel off the outer layers: I've even seen people shake the plant vigorously - as I say, there are many ways. 

But the result is wonderful, and you can see why one common name for this plant is Silver Dollar Plant.

Oh, I should mention that the flowers are normally purple,  but there is a variegated version, whose foliage is a very interesting green-and-white:

...and this one has white flowers.

The seed pods are just as glorious, but in my experience, it's not as long-lived as plain green Honesty,  and it does not seem to be as prolific a self-seeder.

However, for foliage like this - right - I'm prepared to do a bit of cosseting!

Both the variegated and the plain green Honesty are often described as an annual, but it's actually a biennial: that means that the first year, you get a rosette of foliage, but no flowers: the second year you get the flowers. And the seeds. 

So the first time that you introduce Honesty into your garden, you'll have a lovely show of flowers, but the following year might appear to be a bit disappointing, with no sign of new ones.

However, the next year, you'll have masses of them! And for every year thereafter, because not all the seeds will germinate, the first year they fall, so it very quickly breaks the two-year barrier.

To recreate this sort of effect, look around your garden for a position where the late September sunlight falls across the back of a bed - somewhere you can see through. An island bed is a great place - or maybe the western edge of your garden, if you don't have solid fences on that side.

Then all you have to do is buy a couple of plants or - better - ask your friends and neighbours if anyone has some seed. Scatter the seed, be a bit casual with your weeding next summer, and the year after, you'll have this, to look at!









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