Welcome hitchhiker: Linaria purpurea

Making a new garden can be expensive, especially when the new garden contains absolutely nothing! Much to the horror of the removal guys, I did bring some plants with me when I relocated permanently to Ireland but the amount was very limited. Some of these had been dug up from the garden (in spring and potted so they had a chance of surviving) and this meant that I brought a few hitchhikers with me. One of these was Linaria purpurea (purple toadflax). It popped up in a pot of daylily and I am very pleased to see it.

This is not one of the plants I would normally get very excited about but that is unfair of me because it has a lot of merit. Admittedly the flowers are very small (so some would say that it makes it especially appealing to me) but they are abundantly produced and it flowers for many months. It is easy to grow and thrives in rather dry and poor soils in full sun. In fact it could be considered a weed in the UK and Ireland though it is not native, coming from Southern Europe.

It is a perennial that makes a rather woody base with many upright, largely unbranched stems with masses of narrow, grey foliage to give borders a vertical accent. The stems do branch at the top to make a longer, central spire of flowers surrounded by many smaller and later ones. It rarely needs staking and if you chop it back when flowering is over it will grow and bloom again.

Masses of seed is produced and it will selfseed (as in my pot), and may be a nuisance in gravel. I often get photos of it from bemused gardeners who have the plant in their garden and don’t know where it has come from.¬† It has masses of appeal in prairie borders and makes a good (and reliably hardy) companion for tall verbena and late summer asters.

In addition to the usual purple form there is a popular pale pink form called ‘Cannon Went’ which is very lovely (and I am almost sorry that it was not this one that seeded in the pot since I used to have both). Look carefully and you will find others too, such as pure white, a deeper rose and a lilac called ‘Evensong’. All are equally lovely and breed true from seed.

Growing to about 80cm but varying according to soil conditions, this is an easy and pretty plant that grows well and looks comfortable in most garden soils and situations. It is showy without being overpowering, reliable without being invasive and gives height without dominating. I would regard it in the same way as most hardy geraniums – not likely to steal your heart but you would miss it if not there.


Geoff’s rating


Garden rating






4 Comments on “Welcome hitchhiker: Linaria purpurea”

  1. marie
    July 29, 2019 at 8:18 am #

    I’m only getting to appreciate its beauty now Thank you Geoff.

  2. Meriel
    July 29, 2019 at 11:20 am #

    It is lovely but I have found It is invasive here in my dry garden. If it’s very dry it goes over in a flash and I have to watch to dead head it in time. I have all but the white one so call in for seeds!

  3. Anne Cullen
    July 29, 2019 at 6:23 pm #

    Great for pollinators also

  4. tonytomeo
    August 1, 2019 at 7:51 am #

    That does not even look familiar. I would not have guessed it to be toadflax; and it is so purple, AND perennial. (Linaria is grown as an annual here.)

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