Honeywort – Cerinthe major purpurascens

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Honeywort

Honeywort

Cerinthe major purpurascens (purple honeywort) is one of the most distinctive seed-grown plants to become commonly available in recent years.

The 45-centimeter (18-inch) plants are worth planting in a site where they can be appreciated close up, for they are a continually evolving attraction as their coloring changes and deepens over the long blooming season.

The resulting display was positively cheerful. The short, bushy nasturtium plants with their round, apple-green leaves and bright yellow, orange, scarlet, and mahogany blooms formed a fine undercarpeting for the taller yellow honeywort plants. For purple honeywort, a white annual baby’s breath is a pretty companion.

Choosing and seeding new flowers brings to mind a scene from a movie I once saw. A man nursing his wife through a grave illness asks her one day whether she wants to be buried or cremated. “Surprise me,” she replies.

With the indoor seeding season well underway, I wonder what surprises each new variety will bring my way as it grows, takes its place in the garden, and yields its blooms.

The adventure of growing new plants every year ensures that a garden will never be a static thing.

The introduction of previously unknown plants demands certain flexibility, too. The plants don’t always behave as expected.

Sometimes plants grown as annuals surprise by surviving the winter and regrowing. Others live again in self-sown seedlings. Each new plant introduced into a garden is an invitation: “Surprise me.”

Surprising Cerinthes

Visitors to garden and flower shows over the past couple of years have been enchanted by a curious annual with fleshy, blue-green leaves that turn deep, purple-flushed blue toward the pendulous tips that hold tubular, dark purple-blue flowers.

Cerinthe significant purpurascens (purple honeywort) is one of the most unusual seed-grown plants to become commonly available in recent years.

The 45-centimeter (18-inch) plants are worth planting in a site where they can be appreciated close up, for they are a continually evolving attraction as their coloring changes and deepens over the long blooming season.

I had introduced to purple honeywort five or six years ago when a column reader brought me seeds.

I devoted a small area of the front garden to them, in a prominent location at the top of the driveway where the path to the back garden begins. The plants produced seeds that were easy to gather.

Some years ago, I added a new cerinthe to the garden. Cerinthe minor “Bouquet Gold” is shorter at 30 to 40 centimeters (12 to 16 inches), with terminal clusters of golden flowers borne on branching stems clothed in bright green, white-spotted leaves.

Last spring, I found a group of the young yellow honeywort plants growing strongly from seeds their parent plants had left behind.

The young plants looked so determined that I hadn’t the heart to pull them up. Instead, I thinned them out as they grew and popped a few seeds of dwarf nasturtium in among them.

The resulting display was positively cheerful. The short, bushy nasturtium plants with their round, apple-green leaves and bright yellow, orange, scarlet, and mahogany blooms formed a fine undercarpeting for the taller yellow honeywort plants. For purple honeywort, a white annual baby’s breath is a pretty companion.

The cerinthes, for all their sophisticated complexities, are fast and easy growers, drought-tolerant and versatile.

The plants bloom until frost, provide fashionable filler material in cut-flower arrangements, and can be grown in containers and the open garden.

Though they are grown as annuals, some of the plants may overwinter if the winter is mild and the soil gritty and exceptionally well-drained. I have started the seeds indoors in late March for transplanting in late April or early May.

I also have sown the seeds directly outdoors in April or early May. Both methods work fine, though the indoor seeding yields earlier bloom.

Letting plants self-sow is the surest way of keeping cerinthes in the garden.