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Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Dame’s Rocket)

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  OK, today I want to talk about one of the unsung “filler” plants that give a garden a wild touch. At least the fillers I use do, since they are generally old plants taken in from the wild and given garden room, with no further inprovement needed or wanted. 

What filler plants do is weave separate entities into a single scene. Other people might call these plants “weedy”, and, strictly speaking, they might be right, because a weed is a wild plant-althouogh it may not be a native plant–and weeds tend to more stalk and less flower than the fluffy plump plants humans breed. 

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 Hesperis matronalis alba blooms with the later spring bulbs, and for me it usually keeps on going weeks after the bulbs are gone. Dame’s Rocket, the common name, echoes the meaning of the Latin name, which translates to something like “evening star of the Lady.” It was a garden flower in Elizabethan England, grown for its subtle, sweet evening scent. “Hesperis” meaning evening star;  the white version I have really makes a case for that name. 

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  Hesperis grows easily from seed (though like most frost-tolerant perennials, it may need a long germination time, preferably cool and wet). It’s one of those obliging plants. (I should have said: filler plants are obliging plants. At least in my garden.) It will grow anywhere but full shade–it gets floppy in darker semishade, but it still puts out a few flowers.  It perennializes in the nicest kind of way,  never pushy, just filling in and keeping plants company. It is also easy to pull if, for some reason, you decide you don’t want it there. 

Hesperis grows for me in my bulb pots, my watered containers, and the ground–which means it gets no summer water, plenty of summer water, and possible occasional summer water–and keeps going in all three places. It may get some of the fertilizer I throw or spray on the plants nearby, but I don’t pay it a lot of special attention. When it’s not in bloom, the foliage blends pleasantly with whatever is growing nearby. 

  Hesperis is one of the plants that ties the wild garden together with the cultivated garden. And there’s just something about their simple, cruciferous shape that appeals to me.  

Where to find seed:

JL Hudson

Select Seeds

 

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Nancy Bond June 29, 2008, 1:55 pm

    A beautiful plant that must look wonderful amongst the dark greens. Lovely.

  • Pomona Belvedere July 1, 2008, 9:16 am

    It does look nice in dark greens, and it also looks great in semishade, where it obligingly blooms and gleams in the shadow.

  • Bob Beer August 10, 2015, 9:42 pm

    When I first moved into a house with somewhat of a garden in Seattle back in 1991, this plant was all over the place. It looked coarse and invasive and I tore out armloads of it. In the spring the plants that had escaped, bloomed and I was sorry I had been so ruthless. The scent is delicious and the flowers remind me of phlox even though unrelated. You do need to keep control of it or it can get out of hand, but it’s a plant I’d never be without again. Incidentally Lunaria redeviva (perennial honesty/money plant) has a very similar scent.

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