When my pulmonarias begin to bud up ready to flower I know that the days are getting longer, and possibly a little warmer. Along with hellebores, pulmonarias (lungworts) are the first perennials to bloom.
These attractive, low growing evergreen plants, along with many spring flowering plants, prefer shady places, but they can be grown in sunnier spots provided the soil does not dry out during the summer
LEAVES & FLOWERS
Pulmonarias have been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. It was thought the leaves could alleviate lung problems (because the spots on the leaves look like diseased lungs hence the common name lungwort). They grow into dense mounds or flat rosette and although technically evergreen, some varieties are only marginally so, loosing much of the greenery over winter and recovering a full coat during spring. Leaf colour and shape is one of the most attractive features of pulmonarias. They range from deep green to pure silver, and many are spotted with silver, while some are lined with white, and others are just shades plain green. In shape they can be narrow and long, or broad and oval. Above the leaves sits clusters, or sprays, of small, trumpet shaped flowers on short, juicy stems for many weeks. The flowers can be white, pink and soft or dark blue. Often the buds are different colour adding a two-tone feel to the whole clump.
WHERE TO GROW
I have not had a garden where a pulmonaria is not included. Every garden has a shady area that is perfect for edging borders and placing beneath deciduous shrubs. They sit nicely next to short narcissus and blue scillas. However, as they flower so early in the year flowering companions are perhaps less important than plants with wonderful leaves. The big paddle shaped, evergreen leaves of bergenias make ideal companions, as do brunneras with large heart-shaped leaves. Low growing Geums and hardy geraniums are also good as they flower just after pulmonarias.
WHICH TO CHOOSE
There are hundreds of different pulmonarias to choose from, many of which are very similar and some of which are not very reliable. These are the ones would always include in my garden:
‘Barfield Regalia’ is not commonly found, but it is the very first plant to flowers in my garden (often in January) – even earlier than most hellebores. The violet flowers open from coral pink buds on tall stems above a lush evergreen mound of grass green leaves, which are faintly spotted with silver. It grows to 45cm high x 45 cm wide.
‘Big Blue’ is one of our own finds, and not dissimilar to the lovely ‘Lewis Palmer’ except that it flowers earlier and longer. It produces big blue flowers from pink buds. The flowers sit high above very evergreen, deep green, spotted leaves. An upright variety it grows to 45cm high x 30 wide.
‘Blue Ensign’ is one of the best deep blue varieties and a nice, clean variety. It has long, violet-blue flowers and smooth, deep green leaves. Quite low growing it grows to 25cm high x 23cm wide.
‘Cool Cotton’ should be included for the foliage alone. It produces a flat rosette of long, very silver leaves with blue and pink flowers. A low plant it grows to 20cm high x 30cm wide.
‘Opal’ is one of my favorite varieties with clusters of soft blue flowers and mounds of long, mid-green leaves with large silver spots. Reliably evergreen it grows into quite a large plant: 30cm high x 45cm wide.
‘Rubra’ produces small coral pink flowers, which contrast prettily against its soft green leaves. It does keep some of its leaves through the winter, but it could not really be called evergreen. Grows 23cm high x 24cm wide. There are lots rubra variations that similar including ‘Redstart’ and ‘Bowles’s Red’. ‘David Ward’ has handsome soft green leaves that are edged with white.
saccharata ‘Mrs Moon’ is one of the most floriferous pulmonarias, producing masses of small soft pink flowers that sit above a perfect mound of small, mid-green, gently spotted leaves. The RHS ‘Encyclopedia Of Perennials’ notes that the true plant may not be now grown, as does Alan Bloom in his perennial book from the 1960’s. The description above describes consistently the plant we have grown for over 20 years. 30cm high x 30cm wide
‘Sissinghurst White’ has really pure white flowers that are quite small but very pretty. They sit just above a low mound of mid-green leaves that are gently spotted with silver. It grows to 30cm high x 45cm wide.
by Claire Austin
Posted on 14/01/2012