Sweet as honey: Mignonette

bees mign2

One of the ‘interesting’ things I grew this year was mignonette (Reseda odorata). I say ‘interesting’ because it is not new or rare and is supposed to be common but I don’t know many people that grow it. I certainly don’t sow it every year and I can’t actually remember when I last grew it. It certainly won’t win any beauty contests with its small flowers made up of tiny frilly cream petals and prominent, brownish anthers and even seed catalogues are refreshingly honest in their descriptions, listing them as insignificant or dull.

Now size isn’t everything and I have a reputation for liking flowers that hide their light under a bushel. I cannot say that mignonette flowers are showy but they are pretty when you look really closely. But you don’t really grow these for their looks but their perfume. The tiny flowers each pump out a sweet, light perfume that, because there are so many of them on a plant, can perfume the air around them. Traditionally this was planted in the garden along with night-scented stock to provide perfume during the day and at night.

We seem to have forgotten not only the plant itself but also how to grow it and in Victorian times mignonette was not just extensively planted but carefully nurtured in cool greenhouses and coldframes so it could be had in bloom most of the year and plants were grown and trained as huge pyramids of flower.

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This is an annual from the Mediterranean region but it has a woody base and the plants have a long life compared to some other annuals. It is said to resent transplanting and is perhaps best sown direct where it is to bloom. But I sowed it in cell trays, a pinch of seed in each, and thinned out the seedlings to no more than three per cell. They were planted out 20cm apart in late May. Unfortunately some of them were planted out later, when they were a bit starved in the cells and were rather wispy and yellow in colour and I did not hold out much hope for them. But they surprised me and, once they had settled in, they romped away.

While many other annuals are looking tired, the mignonette is still going strong and looking as good as ever. The plants have spread to about 40cm across and almost as much high and have been covered in flowers for months. It is a bit of a shame that the bladder-like seed pods are bigger than the flowers but they are the same shade of green so hardly notice.

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One pleasant surprise is that they seem to be really popular with honey bees. The honey bees have ignored virtually every other flower in the garden and are just not interested. In contrast, the bumble bees have loved the garden and found ways to get at all the flowers, chewing their way into the nectar spurs of all sorts of flowers they shouldn’t really be visiting. But the honey bees just don’t like my flowers – apart from the mignonette which, oddly, the bumbles don’t bother with at all! The fact that the honey bees have great masses of brown pollen on their back legs shows that they are working these flower well.

Looks like we are all happy for once.

bees mign

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4 Comments on “Sweet as honey: Mignonette”

  1. Meriel
    September 21, 2015 at 12:25 am #

    As always, great photos and interesting text. I never knew what Mingonette looked like but the name sounds familiar from books. Any seeds to swap later? I have a Knifofia that I think is a bit unusual, K. thompsonii var. snowdenii if you would like it. Not everyone likes knifofias, I know, however this is a rather refined one & a nice soft orange. I have a couple of well established ones potted up. Do call in sometime you are at Mt. Usher. Would you like some Jane Phillips too, to add to your Iris collection? Perhaps you have it already?

    • thebikinggardener
      September 21, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

      Yes, I will collect some seeds for you and that kniphofia is a good one so yes, we can do a swap, thank you 🙂

  2. Meriel
    September 22, 2015 at 11:23 am #

    Well actually I didn’t really mean a swap. I’d been racking my brains as to what I have that you might like since you were so generous with the plants you brought in July! If there was anything that struck you at the time please let me know. I will be away in IoM again from this Fri 25th – October 14th.

    • thebikinggardener
      September 22, 2015 at 5:14 pm #

      Well gardeners are naturally generous 🙂 I hope your trip to the IoM goes well

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