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Also known as blue shrimp flower and blue honeywort, the Blue Cerinthe is particularly suitable for gardens in the Pacific Northwest.
Quick now – how many blue plants can you name? Not very many, I’ll be bound. There are the species rhododendron and azalea, of course. And then there are lavender, Myosotis (forget-me-not), Anchusa, a few clematis perhaps, plus various members of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), after which the mind begins to falter.
Oh yes, the English bluebell. On the whole, though, I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of flowers come in the red or yellow spectrum, and just why this is so would be an interesting field of study. Perhaps it has something to do with the property of the soil in which they first evolved, or perhaps the direction of the sun’s rays. You will understand, then, that I was most intrigued when Valerie Murray, that splendid plantswoman now in charge of the restoration and upkeep of the Abkhazi Garden in Victoria, pointed out the new – to me – Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens.’
It is certainly an eye-stopper and a beautiful one, at that. The plant is approximately 45 cm (18 in.) high, has grey-green leaves and nodding blue tubular flowers that are approximately 2.5 cm (1 in.) long. These are surrounded by large heart-shaped bracts, which, as the weeks progress, change their colour. The leaves that clasp the flowers darken, and change from blue-green to a fleshy purple – altogether a most amazing and unusual display. Obviously a curiosity, it is not less attractive for that. Research tells me that the name Cerinthe comes from the Greek – keros (meaning wax) and anthos (flower). This probably refers to the fact that bees are supposed to take wax from the flower – thus, its common name blue waxflower.
It is also known as blue shrimp flower and blue honeywort. The plant hails from the Mediterranean, and so is particularly suitable for gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Some call it an annual, others half-hardy, and it is credited with having withstood temperatures as low as -5°C (23°F). Be that as it may, it self-seeds readily and will spread happily throughout the garden, though not invasively so. If you obtain the black, pea-shaped seeds from a nursery, sow them in April, in moist soil, in a sunny spot (think Greece) and give them average watering.
Germination takes place within a few days. An added advantage to all this is that the hummingbirds find the flowers very attractive – all that sweet nectar. There is another Cerinthe with pendent tubular yellow flowers, but it is the cultivar ‘Purpurascens,’ only introduced on a popular scale a year or two ago, which is of interest here. Not only is it unusual, but it will make a most attractive addition to your garden. Try it – you will certainly like it!