Although I have not grown it for a few years, a visit to Dublin Botanics a few weeks ago reminded me of just what a good plant clarkia can be. It is one of those hardy annuals that used to be recommended for children to grow and is a real cottage-garden plant. It is a good filler, the seeds are cheap and the flowers come in a variety of colours. And with luck it will self seed and pop up year after year.
I always associate clarkia with godetia. Clarkia tends to be tall and willowy with four-petalled flowers, though most mixtures have double flowers, and godetia is a much dumpier plant with larger flowers that tend to face upwards rather than to the sides. Godetia flowers have gorgeous, silky petals. Unfortunately plant breeders seem to have taken an interest in godetias with the result that there are now F1 hybrids and other dwarf kinds that are sold as pot plants in full bloom, Unfortunately these have no potential to grow any more and they just age unpleasantly after purchase. Clarkias seem to have been ignored by the breeders so most are tall and elegant.
As it happens, things are a bit more complex than it seems at first because clarkias are Clarkia unguiculata (C. elegans) and godetias are Clarkia amoena (amoena means beautiful).
Both are native to the western seaboard of the the USA, found wild in California and Oregon where they grow in stony ground and at the edge of woodland and in scrub.
The name clarkia commemorates one of the great names in the exploration of North America: William Clark, one half of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson. It set out from Louisiana to discover plants, animals and a route to the Pacific which it reached, along the Colombia River at Fort Clatsop.
William Clark has his clarkias, Meriwether Lewis has lewisias and, of course, jeffersonias are delightful North American native plants.
Clarkias are hardy annuals that can be sown in March and April or now, in September. They are not fussy about soil but prefer a sunny site. If thinned to give the plants enough room to grow and branch they should not need staking. Plants can grow up to 75cm high and they make a lovely cut flower.