Bloody wallflowers

And no, I am not swearing

As the tulips open, wallflowers join them and the two are impossible to separate; a classic combination. But although wallflowers are usually treated as biennials and pulled up after flowering, their nature is to be short-lived, small shrubs. Buying wallflowers has become complicated for beginners because they are either sold as clumps of seedlings in pots in autumn, which rarely do well, or as perennial plants, sold in bloom now. The most popular perennial wallflower, for decades, was ‘Bowles’ Mauve’. But plant breeders have been busy and there are lots of new cultivars. But double wallflowers are still uncommon. The best-known are the yellow ‘Harpur Crewe’ and the dark red ‘Bloody Warrior’ or ‘Old Bloody Warrior’. Both are rare. I have grown both in the past and ‘Harpur Crewe’ is a small, neat, upright plant while ‘Bloody Warrior’ is more like a regular wallflower in habit, robust and sprawling as it ages. I am glad to have it again and my plant, which was planted 18 months ago is now 40cm high and 60cm wide and now covered in flowers and buds.

The flowers are fully double and dark red, almost the colour of dried blood or oxblood if you know your DMs. They are lightly flecked with yellow. As we would expect, the flowers smell lovely. ‘Harpur Crewe’ is possibly Victorian but probably older (it was named during her reign) but ‘Bloody Warrior’ is much older and was mentioned in Gerards Herball in 1597 so the link here is with the first Queen Elizabeth. While it is not a perfect plant I feel it is a privilege to grow such a lovely link with the distant past.

‘Bloody Warrior’, like all perennial wallflowers, prefers a well-drained spot and full sun. It is also best in the second year and after that starts to deteriorate and get twiggy and lose vigour so this summer I need to take cuttings. These can be taken in summer and need to be sideshoots from the main stem, taken with a heel.

To be honest, there are other double wallflowers and they can be grown from seed. I have never grown them so can’t report on how good they are but I managed to get some seed (from France) and will need to sow these next month and then I can report on these this time next year. Obviously these must be semi-double so they can set seed but ‘Bloody Warrior’ does not.

And lastly, just to show ‘Red Jep’ which is a good, perennial wallflower. I have had it about seven years though this plant is three years old (and on its last legs) and needs to be propagated from cuttings soon. Being old it is not producing much vigorous growth which I need for cuttings. Like many ‘garden centre’ plants, this one has a short shelf life and I have not seen it for a while – it has been replaced by more modern cultivars. But I value this one and it smells nice. It actually produces a few seeds and the seedlings vary in colour and those that I have allowed to flower have been nice too.

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3 Comments on “Bloody wallflowers”

  1. afinneganstergmailcom
    April 20, 2022 at 9:57 am #

    Glad to read about wallflowers. I have a few which i grew from seed (Scarlet Bedder) and the packet says hardy biennial but I didnt remove them last year and they are a lot nicer this year! Not sure if I should pull them out once they ‘ve finished blooming or see if they want to be perennial??

    • thebikinggardener
      April 20, 2022 at 10:27 am #

      They will stand a better chance of surviving if you trim them back and remove the tops of the stems to remove the old flowers and prevent seed production. They do get woody and straggly as they age and they may also get virus that causes streaking of the flowers – which is actually quite attractive. This is more likely if you have hedge garlic or honesty growing wild in the garden.

  2. Paddy Tobin
    April 20, 2022 at 6:35 pm #

    I threaten, each year, to grow a few wallflowers as we did for many years but I have yet to move myself to do so!

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