Tuesday, 15 March 2016

On the Menu for Bees in March

When it comes to beauties with unfortunate names, common lungwort has to win the prize. Even its Latin name, Pulmonaria officinalis - pulmo - pertaining to the lungs and officinalis - of the shop (and they don’t mean Harrods), hardly conjures up images of the heavenly flowers gracing my garden at the moment. Were our antecedents so preoccupied with leaves like diseased lungs that they failed to notice the blooms? Someone's forebears must have looked at this charming little plant and thought not of its delightful flowers or (thankfully) ulcerated lungs, but of its speckled leaves being spattered by the Virgin Mary’s milk. Consequently Pulmonaria is blessed with a number of biblically-related monikers including the rather unimaginative, ‘Mary-spilt-the-milk’. As common names go, it is an improvement on lungwort, but it is hardly in the league of beauty berry or pearl everlasting.
Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare'
Not all pulmonarias have leaves speckled with milk; 'Blue Ensign' for example has plain dark green foliage and 'Diana Clare' makes rosettes of silvery leaves with green edges. Pulmonarias thrive in pretty much any soil in dappled shade; some forms will cope with heavy shade. The key is that the soil must be moist, but not waterlogged. Too dry, and Pulmonaria may fall prey to powdery mildew.
Pulmonaria officinalis Cambridge Blue Group
At 25-30cm tall (10-12") it makes a superb ground cover plant. It is non-invasive, semi-evergreen and will even grow under Juglans nigra (the black walnut). I don't mollycoddle Pulmonaria; our clay soil suits them and all I have to do is cut back the foliage and seed heads after flowering, give the plants a little fish, blood and bone and leave them to get on with the business of growing their summer foliage.
Pulmonaria 'Sissinghurst White'
Pulmonaria is a member of the borage family (borage is not the prettiest word in the world, which proves, were proof required, that there is no avoiding unattractive names if you are a lungwort). As we might expect from a borage family member, the flowers are nectar-rich and attractive to bees. 
Pulmonaria 'Diana Clare'
The different colours of blooms indicate the various stages in the development of the flowers. It is thought that this is a signal to pollinators so that they know exactly which flowers are ripe for pollination. How clever is that? If flowers had brains, Pulmonaria would be a fully paid-up member of Mensa. Beauty and brains... it's just a shame about the name, but in the words of Meat Loaf, ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’.

I am joining with Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day which is hosted by Carol at http://www.maydreamsgardens.com/ Why not pop over there and see what else is blooming this week in gardens around the world?