by Sue Gray
Polemoniums, for me, are a staple of the late spring/early summer garden. Commonly known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ on account of the pinnate leaves said to resemble Jacob’s biblical ladder rising to heaven, they have had a reputation for being rampant self-seeders which should be avoided at all costs, but there are now many named varieties which do not seed around but form clumps, in my experience up to 50cms wide and, depending on variety, anything from 25cms to almost a metre in height.
Usually found in shades of blue, purple/mauve and white, there is a yellow form, P. pauciflora which is slightly later flowering and can self-seed, and P. carneum ‘Apricot Delight’ which rather belies its name and appears as a very pale pink flower slightly flushed with yellow.
One of my favourite varieties is P. ‘Lambrook Mauve’ which, as you might infer from the name, was discovered by Margery Fish in her Somerset garden. It has open mauve flowers with orange anthers, but I suppose my favourite of all is P. ‘Sonia’s Bluebell’.
I have no idea how or where I first came by this lovely plant emerging with dark foliage that fades to green and pale blue flowers, but I was thrilled when it formed part of our display at Chelsea 2010 and even more thrilled when Carol Klein recorded a piece about it as part of her ‘Red Button’ coverage. Apparently it had first been discovered in the garden of her friend Sonia, hence the name, who had helped Carol create her first ever display at Chelsea. Sadly Sonia died not long after, and Carol’s last sentence was ‘so it is good to see Sonia back at Chelsea where she belongs’.
I have tried twice with P. ‘Northern Lights’ – a favourite of our late member Marguerite Mason – but lost it on both occasions, no doubt by my wrong placement, but all others that I have grown have been very easy-going and divide easily in spring to form new plants which grow away well.
Pictures courtesy of Sue Gray