A few years ago, while riding my bicycle, I saw a plant with an exciting combination of blue, green, and purple. Those are my three favourite colours. Blue and purple especially — the colours of magic!
Some investigation revealed the name, or rather names, of this plant. In scientific Latin, it’s Cerinthe major, variety atropurpurea. Common names include honeywort and “blue shrimp,” which certainly describes it when in bloom. But I prefer “Pride of Gibraltar,” which has a certain grandeur and mystery, quite in keeping with this plant’s magical qualities.
Why magical, you ask? Because of the colour changes it undergoes. I grew a number of plants from seed this summer, in pots. That allowed me to keep a close eye on them and observe their development. Last summer, I grew them in the chaotic mess of the “Ex-Veg Patch,” where they soon disappeared among the jumble of herbs and arugula. I managed to harvest seven seeds and resolved to make good use of them.
When young, the simple, entire leaves of cerinthe are a pale green with faint white blotches. I worried about those blotches, but I think they’re normal. Once the plants branch out and prepare to bloom, the foliage colour deepens to a unique blue-tinged green. Flower buds form, and the ends of the stalks droop as the flowers open.
The flowers themselves aren’t all that spectacular. They’re narrow purple tubes less than an inch long, peeking out from the small terminal leaves. The magical thing is the colour of those leaves. They’re dark blue, sometimes with purple and bronze flushes. The combination of blue-green, pure blue, purple-blue, and purple is a delight to the eye. And chances are a bumblebee will show up. As it burrows into a flower, the bumblebee’s buzz grows more intense, probably because of the tubular shape.
Pride of Gibraltar cerinthe is an easy-to-grow annual. The seeds are about the size of peas, so are easy to handle. I can imagine all kinds of clever colour combinations in beds, borders and containers. Definitely allow seeds to form and ripen so you can experience the magic again next year.
We’re experiencing that weird, smoke-induced orange light here again. Some say it’s going to be the “new normal” for our summers. Air quality the past few days has been too poor for garden activities more strenuous than admiring the flowers of summer’s end, such as cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.”