How to grow pulmonarias

By Val Bourne

Pulmonarias combine nectar-rich, spring flowers and good foliage. Their popularity with bees gives them a propensity to cross freely and this has led to a plethora of varieties. So it's wise to choose carefully - because some are much better than others.

PulmonariaPulmonaria
The Best Varieties

Silvered leaves

In recent years two silver-leaved varieties have appeared, 'Majeste' and 'Diana Clare'. 'Majeste' is a French variety dating from 1986 with frosted leaves colour-washed in pale green. It often reminds me of weathered copper roofs.

The flowers open pink before turning blue after pollination. This pink and blue combination has earned our native pulmonaria the common name of soldiers and sailors - because there are pink and blue flowers out together.

'Majeste' has been superseded by a newer, violet-blue flowered pulmonaria with pale-silvered leaves called 'Diana Clare'. This was spotted as a seedling at Cotswold Garden Flowers circa 1995 and named after Bob Brown’s wife. 'Diana Clare' is perhaps the best pulmonaria of all.

Spotted leaves

Pulmonarias are often called lungworts due to the spotted and dappled leaves of some varieties -they are said to resemble lungs and at one time it was thought that eating the leaves would cure lung ailments.

One of most neatly marked of all is an older cultivar from 1970 called P. saccharata 'Leopard'. It has red-pink flowers and leaves regularly spotted in silver-white dashes. It was discovered by the late plantsman Graham Stuart Thomas - growing in his own garden.

Good blue forms with spotted leaves include 'Trevi Fountain' ( Terra Nova 1999) a long-leaved pulmonaria with cobalt-blue flowers. This performs brilliantly in my garden. 'Lewis Palmer' is also a good performer with upward-facing clusters of violet-blue flowers.

The silver-grey 'Opal' (also called Ocupol) is stunning and long-lived. The narrow foliage is well spotted and this shows up well in the garden.

The diminutive 'Roy Davidson' has neat clusters of Cambridge blue flowers displayed next to stippled leaves. This plant is much stronger than the similar pink - 'Mrs Kittle'.

'Dora Beilefeld' is a good pink with neatly spotted green leaves. But bad weather can decimate this plant.

Plain green leaves

Not all pulmonarias have spotted leaves. Several species have plain-green foliage. These include the very early-flowering pink P. rubra. This plant spreads well and is better restricted to a wild garden as it will smother other plants.

The deep-blue flowers of 'Blue Ensign' rival the gentian for intensity and this dark-leaved pulmonaria, discovered as a seedling at Wisley in the early 1990s, is a stunner. The flowers are later than many and this plant is very compact and full of flower.

How to grow

Pulmonarias are classic woodlanders and they enjoy dappled shade and humus-rich soil. They often resent dry conditions and many will go down with mildew if they become water stressed. However in most gardens they make ideal spring-flowering plants underneath deciduous shrubs or trees.

  • After flowering, a good haircut, followed by a slow-release fertiliser (like blood, fish and bone) and a good watering will promote new leaves for summer.
  • Dead head after flowering to prevent lots of seedlings.
  • Divide after flowering if needed. Lift the plant and choose new bits of stem complete with roots. Discard old woody stems, and pot up the good pieces into soil-based John Innes number 3 compost mixed with grit. Plant out once fully rooted and keep watered.

Grow with

Use among other robust woodlanders and spring bulbs.

  • The blue-flowered forms highlight clear-yellows and Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and yellow narcissi (like 'Jetfire') would make good companions.
  • The paler flower colours stand out well on their own and they could be used to break up dark and sultry hellebores and tulips.
  • The silver-leaved forms are excellent planted close to dark tree trunks - the shiny mahogany trunk of Prunus serrula for instance.

Where to buy

Long Acre Plants - www.plantsforshade.co.uk

Related

  • Primroses

    Spring woodlanders

    Find out which plants will really make a difference to your garden in March.

    Read on

  • Digging

    How to prepare your soil for spring planting

    If you are planning on planting up a new bed or border in the spring, early winter is the perfect time to wrap up warm and prepare the soil

    Read on

  • Daffodils at RHS Garden Wisley © RHS Images

    In search of daffodils

    The recent warm temperatures have caused flowers, normally reserved for spring, to begin to flower. Nicola Iseard goes in search of the best places to find buttery-gold daffodils throughout the country

    Read on

  • Bumble bee

    The bee

    Award-winning nature writer and photographer, David Chapman, on the story behind the headlines about disappearing bees

    Read on

  • Aquilegia 'Yellow Queen'

    How to grow May-flowering aquilegias

    Aquilegias produce bee-pleasing flowers in May, a month when flowers tend to be in short supply. Val Bourne advises on the best varieties to grow, plus tips on planting and care

    Read on

  • Anemone Honorine Jobert

    How to grow Japanese anemones

    Japanese anemones flower in late-summer or autumn, producing simple saucers in white and various shades of pink. The flowers open from round, silk-covered buds and, in summer rain, these looks like pearls glistening in the border. So much so that I almost prefer the buds to the flowers.

    Read on

  • Muscari 'Valerie Finnis'

    How to grow little blue bulbs

    When spring arrives a whole host of diminutive bulbs in various shades of blue and lavender spring up. They go well with shorter varieties of yellow daffodil or other woodlanders

    Read on

  • Hyacinths

    How to grow hyacinths

    Hyacinths make wonderful indoor plants whether it’s in the dark days of winter or at the beginning of spring

    Read on

  • 'You and Me' yellow hose in hose

    How to grow primroses

    These shade-loving blooms, beloved of bees, epitomise spring

    Read on

  • Roscoea purpurea ‘Red Ghurka’ from www.desirableplants.com

    Plant portrait: roscoeas

    These rather exotic-looking plants, loosely allied to the Ginger family, look like irises to some and orchids to others. Their appearance seems to suggest a lack of hardiness to gardeners, however these tuberous, rooted plants are hardy if planted deeply.

    Read on

  • Home thumbnail

    Home insurance

    Cover of up to £50,000 for contents and up to £500,000 for buildings as standard.

    MORE DETAILS

  • Holiday home thumbnail

    Holiday home insurance

    All the cover you need for your holiday home abroad.

    MORE DETAILS


  • Ade Hemstock

    Posted: Saturday 16 August 2014

    I was most surprised to see SAGA on the search engine. I was even more surprised with the level of detail about the plant I was looking at which was Pulmonaria. I will certainly visit this site again for info.

COMMENTS

Type your comment here


 characters remaining.

Saga Magazine

Free seeds when you subscribe

Receive six packets of Mr Fothergill’s seeds absolutely free when you subscribe to Saga Magazine for just £19.95.

More gardening articles

Browse our extensive archive for more gardening news and advice from our gardening experts.