Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Perennials

Lavatera

by Lynn Ocone


Lavatera trimestris 'Ruby Regis'

Lavatera is one of those plants that people see and like immediately, says southern California horticulturist Cristin Fusano, referring to the shrubby perennial Lavatera thuringiaca. When customers see one in bloom, they have to have it, she chuckles. "The flowers and foliage work well in cottage gardens and in wild, relaxed plantings," she adds.

Referring to the annual type, Lisa Crowning, horticulturist at Thompson & Morgan, says it's the large, lustrous, hollyhocklike flowers that really excite people. Lavateras bear attractive silky blooms up to three inches wide, often with delicate contrasting veining. The individual flowers are striking, but it's the profusion of blooms that catches your eye. The palmate, vaguely maplelike leaves are attractive as well.

There are 20 to 25 species of lavatera, though only a handful are in cultivation. The group, sometimes referred to as tree mallows, includes annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs.

Annual Lavatera

Perhaps the most widely grown lavatera is the annual species L. trimestris and its cultivars. Colors range from pristine white 'Mont Blanc' to light pink 'Pink Beauty', and deep pink 'Silver Cup' to bright cherry pink 'Ruby Regis'.

This species reaches from 21 to 36 inches tall and branches from 12 to 18 inches in width. Because of its substantial character and abundant blooms, a group of three or more effectively anchors a border. The pink flowers and green leaves are attractive combined with blue-flowered plants, such as bachelor's buttons or Salvia farinacea 'Victoria', and with silver-foliaged plants like Artemisia 'Silver Mound'.

These annuals, which typically bloom from July to autumn, make useful fillers in perennial gardens, contributing color at a time when many plants are past peak bloom. Although the individual flowers are quite delicate, cut flower spikes are long-lasting and beautiful in bouquets.

How to Grow. Gardeners in all regions can grow this annual, although the plants prefer cool, moist summers. Sow seeds directly in the garden one to two weeks before your last frost date. Pick a sunny location with fertile, well-drained soil. Seeds can germinate in as few as seven days at the optimum 70°F soil temperature, but usually take 15 to 20 days in early spring.

Thin seedlings 12 to 18 inches apart. In short-season regions, sow seeds indoors now and transplant after frost. Lavatera is sensitive to root disturbance: Sow three seeds to a peat pot and thin to the strongest seedling. When it is about four inches high and well hardened-off, plant, peat pot and all, in the garden. The plants require consistent moisture and wilt or drop buds if it gets too hot and dry.

For bouquets, cut spikes with two open flowers. After cutting, several additional buds will open. A cut spike lasts 7 to 12 days.

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