In Praise of Love-in-a-Mist or Devil-in-a-Bush

Nigella damascena has been one of the constants in my yards. With her delicate foliage and water-colored blossoms, it is a cottage garden favorite that brings a romatic feel to the flower garden.  The rocky slopes, fields, and wasteland of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Eurasia is Nigella damascina’s original birthplace.

Easy going Love-in-a-Mist, makes its self at home in nearly any garden but is a must for the old-fashioned flower garden. Informal settings are where it shines and annual borders, mixed borders, and cottage gardens are all the better for it growing there. Its fine foliage offers huge contrast against plants like irises and silver-colored plants such as Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina).

Some statistics on Nigella are:

• Love-in-a-Mist blooms all summer.
• All varieties are full, but light and airy.
• The petals are paper-thin and are 1 ¾” across.
• Nigellas range from 15” to 30” tall depending upon the variety.
• They are virtually trouble free from pests and disease.
• Nigella doesn’t mind drought or poor soil.

What’s in a Name?

Nigella damascena is most commonly called “Love-in-a-Mist” for its delicate blooms that are surrounded by fennel-like leaves. But Love has an alter-ego known as “Devil-in-a-Bush.” This alternate name for Nigella refers to the balloon-shaped seed pods that are produced after the blossoms have disappeared. The plump seed pods (complete with spiked horns) seem to be hiding behind spidery foliage.

Planting and Growing Love-in-a-Mist

There’s (almost) nothing to planting these lovely annuals and they’ll usually reseed themselves for the following year. Simply pre-chill Nigella seeds in the refrigerator for about one week prior to planting. Plant the seeds in situ (their permanent place) in mid-spring ½“ deep (they don’t take kindly to transplanting). Keep the seeds moist until they germinate. Once the plants are established, they’ll need minimal watering — in fact, people sometimes over-water them.

Nigella works overtime to please its care taker. Feel free to encourage more flower by dead-heading spent blooms, but the seed pods that are formed later are every bit as charming as the lacy flowers. In fact, the pods can be a unique addition to not only your garden, but to dried flower arrangements, as well. If you’d like to save seeds for next year or to share with friends, the time is right when you can shake a dried pod and hear the seeds rattling inside. Break a bit of the pod open and they’ll sprinkle out like a pepper shaker!

Nigella Varieties and Cultivars

• N. damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’ – The most popular variety. Light blue blooms that darken with age. Grows 1 ½ ‘ tall. There is a full ‘Miss Jekyll Series’ that have bloom colors in white, sky blue, and rose.
• N.damascena ‘Persian Jewels’ – These are sky-blue, deep violet, rose pink, deep pink, and white. Grows to 16”.
• N. damascena ‘Miss Jekyll Rose’ – Pure pink in color, and grows to 1 ½ ‘ tall.
• N. damascena ‘Mulberry Rose’ – large flowers opening creamy pink and deepening to rose pink.
• N. hispanica ‘Curiosity’ – Scented, with bright blue flowers 2 1/2 “ across, 24-30” tall.
• N. orientalis ‘Transformer’ – yellow flowers that are 1 3/4 “ across, 18” tall.

Keep your eyes open for this lovely annual; there are many more varieties to enjoy!

Photo Credits:

1. Blue Nigella by lilli2de
2. Blue and white Love-in-a-Mist by ripple in a garden
3. Devil-in-a-Bush by Minette Layne
4. Seed pod by Jo-h

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