The best wallflowers to grow for spring display
The wallflower is one of the most generous plants any gardener can grow. It flowers from early spring and can linger long after Midsummer’s Day and some forms are sweetly scented, too.
Choose from our list of favourites to suit your planting scheme.
Erysimum ‘Ruston Royal’
A robust cultivar with strong, woody stems and an upright habit. Flowers on long racemes, forming an evergreen bush. Spikes of light and dark mauve flowers that age to a paler lilac. Full sun and well-drained soil.
Pretty flowers that change from soft primrose-yellow to mauve. The grey foliage, indicating a need for a sunny position, is similar to ‘Bowles’s Mauve’, although it’s a smaller plant in stature. Sterile so stays in flower for many weeks.
Multicoloured flowers that shimmer between brick-pink, butterscotch and violet. Probably found in a garden owned by the Parrish family (close to Bath), it forms a large curtseying plant that billows over paths. Sweetly scented with neat green foliage.
E. ‘My Old Mum’
Associated with Bridge End Nursery in Scotland, this creamy yellow wallflower has mauve striations. Purple buds contrast perfectly with the flowers. Happy in borders or containers in full sun.
E. ‘Hector’s Gatepost’
Bred by the late Hector Harrison, this upright wallflower combines good mauve-purple and brick-pink to orange flowers held above good green foliage. USDA 7a-9b†.
E. ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
This classic long-flowering mauve erysimum forms a tall, upright plant that stays erect. Longer-lived than many. Deserves a place in every garden, but sadly not scented. Can set a little seed on rare occasions. AGM*. RHS H3. USDA 5a-9b.
E. ‘Jacob’s Jacket’
A spreading low wallflower with very narrow dark-green leaves. The flowers are a spangled mixture of pink, brick red and dark orange. Sterile so stays in flower for many weeks.
E. ‘Apricot Twist’
Another foot-high erysimum with vivid apricot flowers emerging from dark buds against dark-green foliage. It must be cut back regularly, otherwise it tails off. Very readily available here and in America. Lovely with dark tulips. Fragrant. RHS H4. USDA 5a-9b.
E. ‘Pastel Patchwork’
A new and unique cultivar with faded, pastel flowers in pink, gold and apricot. Looking mellow in sunlight, but the leggy, lax habit means it has to be cut back hard once flowering is waning. Collection holder Simon Weeks says it flowers well in autumn. USDA 4b-10b.
E. ‘Constant Cheer’
One of the oldest cultivars, producing flowers over many weeks on a compact plant. The brick-pink flowers age to mauve above dark-green narrow leaves which have a wavy edge. Sterile so stays in flower for many weeks. USDA 6a-9b.
E. ‘Wenlock Beauty’
An old cultivar with small leaves and sunset-coloured flowers with more orange than purple. Eyecatching in spring and low-growing. USDA 5a-10b.
A single with large flowers set against the dark-green foliage. This compact plant is a parent for many, including E. Walberton’s Fragrant Sunshine (=‘Walfrasun’). AGM. RHS H3
E. Walberton’s Fragrant Star (=‘Walfrastar’)
This compact wallflower has variegated leaves with cream edges. It doesn’t revert and the bright-yellow flowers, held on a bushy plant, are very fragrant. Sterile so stays in flower for many weeks. USDA 6a-9b.
E. Walberton’s Fragrant Sunshine (=‘Walfrasun’)
Widely available compact variety bred by David Tristram of Walberton Nursery near Littlehampton in Sussex. Luminous yellow, scented flowers, often speckled with red when in bud, carried over a long season. It was a rare seedling from ‘Bredon’. USDA 8a-9b.
E. cheiri ‘Harpur Crewe’
This very double-yellow is almost certainly an ancient cultivar and very typical of an early double. The flowers are small compared to many other cultivars, but they are a rich, golden yellow and very fragrant.
Like a brassica run to seed, this Aegean wallflower has provided the genetic injection of bright yellow in many named hybrids and cultivars. This will set seed and should be treated as a biennial. ‘Harpur Crewe’ is the double form.
Growing and propagating wallflowers
Erysimums left to their own devices have a tendency to become woody and leggy and then fizzle out within four to five years, usually succumbing over winter.
The way to extend their lifespan and keep them compact and vigorous is to give them a yearly midsummer trim by cutting into the foliage. However if the stems are very woody, cut back hard to the base, but try to take a few insurance cuttings straight afterwards. You will have to sacrifice some flowers, but many will rebloom.
By early to mid-July your plant will have bushed out to provide plenty of cutting material. Look for 7-10cm shoots that have begun to firm up slightly. If your cuttings have flower buds, remove them. Trim under the node and plunge them into small seed trays filled with damp horticultural sand, or gritty compost.
Pot up if rooted in early September. If not, leave them alone until next April. Give your new plants a warm, sunny position and well-drained conditions. Add grit to heavy soil.
History and legend
Wallflowers used to be divided into two genus – Erysimum and Cheiranthus – but are now combined under Erysimum. Wallflowers have been grown in Britain for centuries and may have come here with the Normans. The name Cheiranthus is thought to derive from the Greek for hand (cheir) and flower (anthos) and the heavily scented flowers were carried as nosegays to smother the stench of Elizabethan streets. Their Latin name, Erysimum, is said to be derived from erno, meaning to draw up. Their alternative common name, blister cress, confirms their reputation for blistering the skin. I should add that the plant hasn’t irritated my skin, nor have I heard of anyone else being affected. However, wallflowers contain a cardiotonic glycoside known as cheiranthin or cheirotoxin, which is a toxic substance.
Robert Herrick ( 1591-1674), known as The Cavalier Poet, immortalised the wallflower in verse. He wrote about a tragic accident that occurred at Neidpath Castle on the banks of the River Tweed in Scotland. The Earl of March’s daughter, Elizabeth, had fallen in love with a young nobleman from a rival clan, Scott of Tushielaw. Her father wanted her to marry the future king of Scotland instead. The strong-willed Elizabeth refused and her father locked her up in the tower as a punishment. The handsome Scott disguised himself as a minstrel and serenaded her while they made plans to elope, but when the time came Elizabeth fell to her death, landing close to a sprig of wallflower growing along the tower’s wall. The broken-hearted Scott set off to wander through the land wearing a sprig of wallflower, and this flower still symbolises faithful devotion.
‘Up she got upon a wall
Tempting down to slide withal
But the silken twist untied
So she fell, and bruis’d, she died.’
from How the wall-flower came first, and why so called, by Robert Herrick.
Where to buy
Hoo House Nursery
Gloucester Road, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire GL20 7DA. Tel 01684 293389.
- Oak Cottage (The Plant Heritage Collection)
Dr Simon Weeks, Oak Cottage, Halesworth Road, Walpole, Suffolk IP19 9AZ. Tel 01986 784348.
Greenways Lane, Cold Ashton, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 8LA. Tel 01225 891686.
This list was chosen by plant expert Val Bourne.