In my article ‘nearly stumped’ on the 11th May, I mentioned that I had found a plant that I couldn’t identify; A beautiful lilac-mauve flower that was emerging from caterpillar like cymes held aloft from finely cut leaves. I looked through all of my books and tried various on-line sites, I asked a group of gardening friends and designers if they knew what it was and no-one could put a name to it. Then I got an email from a lady who is also working in the garden where we first found the plant and whilst looking at a website for organic vegetables she had stumbled across it.
Phacelia tanacetifolia is actually a hardy annual, grown from seeds. The lavender-blue, bell-shaped flowers, are laden with nectar and attract bees and other beneficial insects in their droves. The ‘blurb’ says that they are perfect for wildflower meadows, or naturalised planting schemes, but I saw this growing as a good clump in a perennial bed and it looked gorgeous. The foliage is fast growing and could provide good cover for Alliums as their foliage dies back. If you do not want the plants to set seed, remove the spent flowers as they fade. Because I was trying to identify it I had actually picked a couple of stems and I have to say that they lasted for a couple of weeks so it is a perfect plant for cut flowers. It also has a long flowering season in the garden, June- September makes it a very good ‘doer’.
This is a very useful plant; It is planted in vineyards and alongside crop fields, where because of its nectar-rich properties it attracts pollinators such as honey-bees. It is also attractive to hoverflies which are useful as biological pest control agents because they eat aphids and other pests. In the garden it can also be treated as a green manure crop, which will help enrich the soil. The National Trust are suggesting that we grow Phacelia as a cheap way of looking after our soil without using harmful chemicals.
How to sow the seeds: From early spring the seeds can be sown into small pots filled with good seed compost and initially protect with a cold frame or unheated greenhouse. Pinch out the growing tips to encourage bushier growth and harden off before planting out. Alternatively sow direct in autumn into a sunny, well-prepared seed bed. Once established it will freely self-seed.
The seeds are available on-line. I’m definitely going to sow them in my garden, I hope that you have a go too.