How to grow wallflowers

Val Bourne / 14 April 2016

Find out how to grow fragrant perennial and biennial wallflowers, or erysimums, compact and colourful plants for a sunny garden.



Wallflowers (Erysimum) are beautifully scented spring-flowering plants that come in two main types - biennials and perennials. Biennial wallflowers are grown from seed one year to bloom the next, while perennial wallflowers, being sterile, are grown by propagating cuttings. Biennial wallflowers have a stronger scent but don't bloom as long as perennial plants.

Related: scented plants for a sunny garden

Where to plant

Give your new plants a warm, sunny position and well-drained conditions. Add grit to heavy soil.

Growing wallflowers from seeds

Biennial wallflowers are grown from seed. Seeds need to be sown in June to produce plants that can be bedded out in autumn. You can usually find plug plants in August on the internet. 

Sow your seeds in modular 6 x 4 trays, one per space, because generally these members of the brassica, or cabbage family, germinate very easily. 

Pinch them out as you plant them. They will flower next April and most are highly fragrant, smelling like shady violets. 

They will set seeds and these can be collected, although F1s will not come true and others may vary. You can also sow them straight into drills in the garden and then lift them in September.

Pruning wallflowers

Left to their own devices, perennial wallflowers have a tendency to become woody and leggy and then fizzle out within four to five years, usually succumbing over winter.

The way to extend their lifespan and keep them compact and vigorous is to give them a yearly midsummer trim by cutting into the foliage. However if the stems are very woody, cut back hard to the base, but try to take a few insurance cuttings from the clippings straight afterwards. You will have to sacrifice some flowers, but many will re-bloom next year.

Taking cuttings

By early to mid-July your plant will hopefully have bushed out to provide plenty of cutting material. Look for 7-10cm shoots that have begun to firm up slightly. If your cuttings have flower buds, remove them. Trim under the node and plunge them into small seed trays filled with damp horticultural sand, or gritty compost.

Pot up if rooted in early September. If not, leave them alone until next April.

Related: taking softwood cuttings

Wallflower

Perennial wallflower varieties

‘Bowles’s Mauve’ AGM
The benchmark variety with grey-green foliage and lavender flowers. This can flower very early in the year and can still be in flower in late-Autumn. Named after E.A. Bowles, a very generous gardener who gardened at Myddelton House near Enfield. Mysteriously the gardeners who survived him always said he never grew it.

‘Constant Cheer’
Still widely available, this multicoloured wallflower is a mottled mixture of mauve, orange and pink. The foliage is green and, unusually, these flowers do have a slight scent.

‘Parrish’s’
A large billowing wallflower with multicoloured flowers that shimmer between brick-pink, butterscotch and violet. Probably found in a garden owned by the Parrish family (possibly close to Bath ) because it came form the famous Hannays of Bath. Sweetly scented with neat green foliage. Introduced by Derry Watkins and available from Special Plants.

‘Winter Orchid’
Everyone’s new favourite, because it’s compact enough to look good in a pot and it flowers from early winter onwards with purple and blood-red flowers, so it’s more vibrant that many of these ‘mutabilis' types.

‘Gogh’s Gold'
Antique gold flowers with pink overtones and quite unique in colour. One of the new Artists Series that also includes ‘Paintbox’, ‘Monet’s Moment’ and ‘Rembrandt’.

‘Walberton’s Fragrant Sunshine’
Widely available compact variety bred by David Tristram of Walburton’s Nursery near Littlehampton in Sussex. Luminous yellow, scented flowers, often speckled with red when in bud, carried over a long season. It was a rare seedling from ‘Bredon‘ and there is a variegated form called ‘Fragrant Star’. Both are fragrant, an unusual trait. Stocked by garden centres.

Biennial wallflower varieties

These are richly fragrant biennials sown in one year to flower the next. They set seed so generally flower for a few weeks only. They mix really well with tulips.

The Sunset Series
Raised by Tozer Seeds in Surrey about ten years ago, this is a disease-resistant F1 hybrid strain subdivided by colour. Avoid the mixtures of Sunset and go for named colours instead. Fully grown plants are bushy and vigorous. You can also acquire seeds. Chiltern Seeds sell ‘Sunset Apricot’, ‘Sunset Purple and ‘Sunset Red’. Plugs are also available on the internet.

‘Vulcan’
A deep-red single coloured wallflower. 

‘Blood Red’
An orange-red single colour wallflower. 

‘Scarlet Bedder’
A bright deep-red variety grown for many years.

‘Fire King’
A dark-orange wallflower. 

‘Giant Pink’
A raspberry-pink wallflower with very large flowers.

Buy perennial wallflowers and wallflower plugs from Saga Garden Centre

Did you know?

Wallflowers have been grown in Britain for centuries and may have come here with the Normans. The name cheiranthus is thought to derive from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos) and the heavily scented flowers were carried as nosegays to smother the stench of Elizabethan streets. Their Latin name, erysimum, is said to be derived from erno, meaning to draw up. Their common name, Blister Cress, confirms their reputation for blistering the skin.

Robert Herrick ( 1591 -1674), known as The Cavalier Poet, immortalised the wallflower in verse. He wrote about a tragic accident that occurred at Neidpath Castle on the banks of the River Tweed in Scotland. The Earl of March’s daughter, Elizabeth, had fallen in love with a young nobleman from a rival clan, Scott of Tushielaw. 

Her father wanted her to marry the future king of Scotland instead. The strong willed Elizabeth refused and her father locked her up in the tower as a punishment. The handsome Scott disguised himself as a minstrel and serenaded her whilst they made plans to elope, but when the time came Elizabeth fell to her death, landing close to a sprig of wallflower growing along the tower’s wall. The broken hearted Scott set off to wander through the land wearing a sprig of wallflower, and this flower still symbolises faithful devotion.

Up she got upon a wall
Tempting down to slide withal
But the silken twist untied
So she fell, and bruis’d, she died

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