It’s old-fashioned, a bit quaint but the wallflower produces a wonderful scent at this time of year. The Elizabethans loved this plant and regularly used them in posies to mask the smells of daily, urban life when they ventured outside. The name cheiranthus is thought to come from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos), suggesting their use as a fragrant bouquet. They were also a favourite in Victorian borders. In the Frameyard, where they’re now blooming plentifully, their bright colours signal the arrival of Spring.
Fota Frameyard Wallflowers
There are two main types of wallflowers – biennials and perennials. Perennial wallflowers used to be known as erysimum and biennials as cheiranthus but now both are now tagged under erysimum. Biennials are made up of two main groups – English (Erysimum cheiri) and Siberian wallflower (E x marshallii). Siberian ones are usually in orange, yellow or apricot. The English ones, slightly taller, come in a wider range of cream, purple, russet, red, yellow and orange.
Erysimum is a genus of the botanical family Brassicaceae. In the main they are garden cultivars which can be found on most continents, including Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. However, some are endemic to more specific regions. Volcanic sites such as Mount Teide in Teneriffe, Spain and Mount Etna in Italy and are home to the Canary Island wallflower (Erysimum scoparium) and Erysimum aetnense respectively.
Most wallflowers are pollinated by different species of bees, bee flies, hover flies, butterflies, beetles and ants. However, some like the Canary wallflower above, are pollinated almost exclusively by one bee, the Anthophora alluadii.
Perennial wallflowers are grown from cuttings and aren’t generally as fragrant as the biennials, which are grown from seed. Wallflowers need good sun, some shelter and a well-drained spot to do well.
One of the most popular varieties is Bowles’ Mauve’, called after E A “Gussie” Bowles (1865-1954). This bushy, colourful plant has grey-green foliage and purple flowers. It’s popularity is largely due to its long flowering period, often for nine months, starting in Winter. Cutting back the plant in mid-Summer helps prevent it from becoming too woody and leggy.
As plants go, wallflowers are quite hardy, as the name suggests and can grow out of walls or in neglected spaces but like all cabbages they are prone to club rot and root fly. So best not to plant them near your brassicas.
Monty Don suggests planting them alongside tulips but says “always plant your wallflowers first, otherwise half the tulip bulbs will be chopped up by your trowel as you go”. Wallflowers look best in large swathes. This way the senses are rewarded with a splash of both colour and fragrance.
Video of how to grow wallflowers from seed: http://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/how-to-grow-wallflowers-from-seed/