Monday, June 6, 2011

Slug-resistant plants II: Love-in-a-Mist and Dame's Rocket

Both Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena) and  Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) are flowers I tried after reading that they are usually left alone by slugs. Into my second summer with them I can confirm that this is true.

These flowers are touted as cottage garden favorites, and have been grown in European gardens for hundreds of years. That and the fact that they are native to Europe appealed to me. Love-in-a-Mist (in German: Jungfer im Grünen) is an annual, and Dame's Rocket (in German: Nachtviole) is usually called a biennial or short-lived perennial. In my garden, Dame's Rocket only survived one of our mild winters, but both plants have self-seeded very generously.

In fact, in the meantime I've learned that Dame's Rocket is regarded in some U.S. states as an invasive species, although in my experience, Love-in-a-Mist deserves this honor much more! I've been battling Love-in-a-Mist all spring, literally ripping out hundreds of offspring from the original 10 or so I planted from seed last year. Here it is crowding out some of my herbs. One place it didn't invade were the rows of winter onions you can see in these photos, so it must not like their company.


The photos above were taken at the end of May, but you can already see the myriads of seed pods being formed.

Love-in-a-Mist seed pod
The flowers and the foliage of this plant are very delicate and lovely, and so are the seed pods for that matter. They make great vase flowers. This makes it hard to rip them out! Another observation I've made is that whereas the original variety I planted was "Miss Jekyll", which has true blue blossoms, all the self-seeded plants bloomed white and I have no more blue at all.

Dame's Rocket also self-seeded, but not anywhere near as prolifically as Love-in-a-Mist, although from the one single plant (purchased in a nursery and planted the fall before) I had last summer there were at least 20 offspring - but not 200. However, the new plants this spring were not as lovely as the original pink-violet plant. The blossoms were not as showy and long-lasting, the plant had less stems, and the color was not as intense. I found a photo showing my single plant of Dame's Rocket last summer, and the second photo shows a couple of its offspring this year. I think you can tell the difference.

Dame's Rocket last year from nursery plant
Self-seeded Dame's Rocket this year
I tried digging up a few plants of Love-in-a-Mist and transplanting them or potting them for the balcony - that didn't work. They didn't survive being dug up well at all. Dame's Rocket, on the other hand, was very easy to transplant, although as was the case with all the self-seeded plants, they just weren't as attractive as the original nursery plant.

Transplanted, self-seeded Dame's Rocket
Conclusion: I will definitely continue to have both these flowers in my garden as they are slug-resistant. However, in the case of Love-in-a-Mist I'll be cutting off the seed pods before they can self-seed, and will grow it from purchased seeds again next year in order to get the lovely blue blossoms. And although self-seeded Dame's Rocket is easy to manage,  I think I'll invest in plants from the nursery again next year.

Another observation: bees and butterflies just love the Love-in-a-Mist.