Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Giant Scabious...

Plants are like people. Some are challenging to keep and cultivate, whilst others are easygoing and content to merge into the background. Then there are those few flamboyant performers who like to take centre stage. Too many of the latter could be hard work, but now and again in life and the garden these characters can lift the scene...



So, some plants earn their keep in the border by nature of their larger than life personalities and the outsize impact they create. The ‘Giant Scabious,’ or if you prefer botanical latin, Cephalaria gigantea, certainly fits into this category. Any plant with the word ‘Giant’ as part of its name is worthy of at least a second look and although some might ultimately disappoint, this particular supersized wildflower would work well in many gardens.
Thankfully, it’s not irritatingly extrovert in terms of brash colouring or blowsy overblown blooms, but it is truly over the top in terms of height. An average plant produces flowers six foot up, with well fed specimens in good years soaring much higher than that. Eight to ten feet or even more is not unusual!

If that sounds too overpowering, don’t be put off. The proportionate flowers are spaced widely enough not to offend and are held aloft on strong wiry stems, well overhead. The main mass of attractively divided foliage sitting down at a much more discreet and manageable waist height.

Although we may associate scabious with pin cushion flowers in shades of light blue or even pink, this eastern european giant blooms in the most delicate shade of primrose yellow. The individual flowers are quite large at a couple of inches across but seem perfectly in scale up there floating above the rest of the border. And, if the garden is blessed with a little sunshine, the sight of them waving gently in the breeze, lemon yellow against a deep blue sky is truly wonderful. Both bees and butterflies think so too and are drawn irresistibly to these aerial feeding platforms. They can be buzzing with life on a warm day. 

Remarkably tough and easy to grow perennials, they are quick off the mark too, reaching full height within a season from a seed sown start. The ‘Giant Scabious’ may be a plant for the back of a large border, but this plant has a big personality and always draws the eye up to its dancing flowers in the sky.

18 comments:

  1. That is fantastic - and I have just the spot for it!!

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  2. I love "aerial feeding platforms" -- and I certainly never knew the wonderful little pincushion flowers had such tall and useful relatives, and in that great soft color. (I learn so much here!)

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  3. Chris, Every month I add one or two new Blogs to my "follow" list. Though we are in different parts of the world, I figure that I will learn something from you and enjoy seeing your posts, thus I am choosing to follow your Blog. Here on Lake Michigan there is a unique climate not like the rest of the state of Wisconsin, cooler Summers (not so this year) and more mild winters (not the normal really cold west of here). I garden as a hobby but it has turned into an obsession! Tried hybridizing daylilies four years ago and this Summer ( in about 2 weeks) the first of my never before seen 450 new daylilies will be blooming. Excited to say the least! Will visit you again soon. Jack

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  4. We used to grow this in Orkney. it always looked great in a breeze against a blue sky. My husband wants it in the garden again...

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  5. Thanks Linniew. I love plants the bees love- used to have 40 bee hives a few years back - fascinating things....

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  6. Thanks for the kind comments Jack, and the follow. We are enjoying hte day lilies right now, and I look forward to seeing some of your new plants....

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  7. Thanks Janet- it is nice to look up to flowers sometimes, and if you manage to contrast the Cephalaria against a deep blue sky it is magical!

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  8. Chris
    I'm enamored by this pale Scabiosa. Even though the brilliantly colored varieties are eye-catching, the form of this giant is quite magnificent.
    Only wish I had the right conditions to grow this beauty,
    cheers,
    Alice
    aka Alice's Garden Travel Buzz

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  9. Thanks Alice. Hope you can make it across to Levens sometime to see it!

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  10. Right, it's on my autumn buy list! Just what I need. Chris, when does it start flowering with you? I'm only about 150 miles north, so it shouldn't be too much later for me

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  11. Hello Gardener at the Edge. Round here its first flowers opened at the beginning of June, and although most are now over, some that don't see the sun so much are still open...
    You might start and finish a week or two later up north....

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  12. Ah, another of the plants on my wishlist, and you have done it great justice with your enthusiasm and lovely pictures. And in the sidebar I see an entry on cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', seeds for which I have in an envelope at home from my mum's lovely thistle. You obviously have exceptional taste in plants ;-) I'm pleased I found your poppy post on gardengrab.
    Sara

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  13. Thanks Sara. Let me know if the Cirsium comes up- we have never seen a seed germinate here...

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  14. It does sound as though I need to beg a root cutting from my mum's plant rather than pin too much hope on the seeds, if they're usually self sterile. Darn...

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  15. Oddly enough, I did try Cirsium from bought seed once. They came up OK but they were not the lovely purple form.....

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  16. I have that scabious!!! The bees absolutely adore it as some seem to be doing in your photos!!

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  17. They are great Anthony, and even showing a few late flowers still in October!

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