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.