Care-free annuals: love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist, also called nigella, is a hard-working garden performer. It was popular in Victorian times and deserves more attention in modern gardens. Here are some tips for growing it:

Care-free annuals:  love-in-a-mist

Planting love-in-a-mist

Beyond being low maintenance, love-in-a-mist produces some of the most complex and beautiful blossoms in the floral kingdom.

  • Arising from an airy cloud of lacy, fernlike foliage are white, blue or pink flowers. The colour isn't the plant's most remarkable quality; it's the configuration that's unique.
  • The pointed petals are laid out like those of a bachelor's button, and each 2.5 centimetre (inch-wide) flower has a green many-pointed topknot like a jester's hat that accents the centre.
  • Below the petals is an Elizabethan-collar of green sepals.
  • Blossoms you do not cut for summer bouquets will mature into inflated seedpods that resemble little, spiny, puffed-up blowfish.
  • They practically dry themselves for use in dried arrangements.
  • For all its small delights, love-in-a-mist isn't a star-quality individual. It makes a statement only in a mass of five or more plants, which will become a patch of colour that demands visiting while at its peak.
  • Keep in mind that love-in-a-mist comes and goes rapidly. It can germinate, blossom and go to seed in only eight weeks.
  • Several successive sowings will be necessary for a lasting display, making love-in-a-mist a perfect partner for similarly short-lived annual poppies.
  • The plain old love-in-a-mist is pretty exciting, but newer varieties are even better.
  • Much-treasured 'Miss Jekyll' has semi-double flowers that sparkle in brilliant sky-blue shades, as well as pearly white flowers, standing on relatively compact, 60 centimetre (25 inch) stems.
  • The 'Persian Jewels' strain increases the colour range to include rose, lavender, pink, purple and carmine.

Increasing the bounty of the plant

Love-in-a-mist prefers to be sown directly in the garden where you want it to grow.

  • Prepare the soil by digging in a generous amount of peat moss, compost or humus to give the soil a fluffy texture.
  • Scatter the seeds in a sunny spot.
  • Water lightly and frequently until the seedlings appear, gradually thinning them to 20 centimetres (eight inches) apart.
  • Quite often, an established planting of these trouble-free plants will self seed, scattering seeds that germinate and grow the following summer.
  • Thin these volunteers to 15 to 20 centimetres (six to eight inches) apart and enjoy the show.
  • To dry flowers for everlasting arrangements, wait until the seedpods are brittle then cut the flower stems as long as possible.
  • Bind several stems together with a rubber band and hang the bunches upside down in a dry, dark, well-ventilated room. Dried pods last for years.

While it might not be the star of your garden, love-in-a-mist is a great addition alongside other annual poppies or in a mass of its own. A great way to fill out your garden, love-in-a-mist is a time-tested classic for backyard gardens.

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