Honesty

Photos by Sabina Rüber

Lunaria Corfu Blue

Lunaria 'Corfu Blue'

Lunaria annua 'Alba'

Lunaria annua 'Alba'

Lunaria annua

Lunaria annua

Honesty is such a useful plant for early spring, an easy companion for tulips and euphorbias with its loose sprays of magenta, purple or white flowers. But it is for its seed pods that it is best known, those round, translucent, papery discs that shimmer silver in the sun, and these can be cut to bring into the house in the same way as the flowers. Most forms are biennial, flowering in their second year, but they self-seed freely to weave their way languidly around other plants, creating a very natural look. 

The common honesty, Lunaria annua, has flowers of a variable colour, ranging from purple through magenta-pink to paler pink. magenta pink, with dark green, rather coarse leaves. I have a dark form, with purplish leaves and magenta pink flowers, sometimes sold as ‘Chedglow’. The white-flowered Lunaria annua var albiflora is a lovely plant, but even more useful is the variegated form ‘Alba Variegata’. Like many people, I am less fond of variegated plants than others, so was initially horrified when my white honesty plants turned out to be variegated. In their first, non-flowering year, their leaves are simply green, but in the second year they form more leaves that are silvery white, at the same time as sending up a branching spike of delicate white flowers. I grew to love them as they really lit up the early spring garden.

Lunaria seed pods

Lunaria seed pods

Lunaria annua Alba Variegata

Lunaria annua 'Alba Variegata'

A recently introduced selection is called ‘Corfu Blue’ which has purple-blue flowers and dark-flushed stems. I first got seed from Helen Dillon in Ireland several years ago, and have been growing it ever since. It self-seeds magnificently, producing strong plants that flower very early in the year – and just go on and on. Last year mine flowered from the end of February right into the summer. A final mention should be given to the perennial honesty L. rediviva, which has softly scented lilac flowers followed by beautiful seed heads that are more elongated than normal honesty seed pods, coming to a point at one end.

Collecting and sowing your own honesty seed is one of life’s pleasures. The large discs can be collected from the plant and dried on paper to sow the following year. The seeds are hidden within the papery layers of the seed pod, usually three of them, large and flat and easy to handle. As biennials, the best time to sow them is in early summer, either direct or in modular trays, where they can stay until the end of the summer, when they should be planted out in the garden to form strong root systems and leaves over the autumn and winter, before flowering the following year. 

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