For hundreds of years Stocks have been a popular feature of beds, borders and cottage gardens. Their soft grey-green foliage and densely-clustered flowering spikes are known to everyone, and the fragrance which hangs in the air around them makes them a delight in any garden. Despite all this popularity they are quite complex – a fair degree of skill is needed to raise them successfully from seed and their classification often leads to confusion.

VARIETIES: There are 4 basic groups. The first one is the Ten Week Stock group with M. incana as a parent. These plants are treated as half hardy annuals, sown in the spring under glass and then bedded out to flower in the summer about 10 weeks later. Their standard height is 1.5 n, but there are variations ranging from the Dwarf Ten Week Stock (1 ft) to the ‘Excelsior’ and ‘Mammoth’ strains which reach 2.5 ft. The earliest to flower is the ‘Trysomic Seven Week’. The second large group consists of the Brompton Stocks, grown as biennials by sowing in summer for flowering in the following spring. There is a small third group, the East Lothian Stock which can be grown as either a half hardy annual orabiennial, and there is afourth group which is quite different from theothers. This is the Night-scentedStock (M. bicornis). It is a hardy annual, sown in spring where it is to flower, and the 1 ft plants bear insignificant flowers which close during the day. But at night… ah, that delicious fragrance!

SITE AND SOIL: Any well-drained garden soil which is not acid will do – thrives in sun or light shade.

PLANT DETAILS: Height 1 -2.5 ft.

Spacing: 9 in. -1 ft.

Flowering period: June-August (Ten Week Stock Group) or March-May (Brompton Stock Group).

PROPAGATION: Follow the Hardy Annual, Half Hardy Annual or Biennial technique, depending on the variety chosen – see above. If you want double flowers, buy a ‘Seiectable Variety’. The seedlings with dark green leaves will produce single flowers – discard them at pricking-out time. Seedlings are susceptible to disease – do not overwater and handle by the leaves and not the stem.

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