Pulmonaria saccharata

Anyone who has passed a few spring weeks in one of the lusher parts of France has delighted in the common lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis, which abounds by every road and stream. I choose P. saccharata for the garden only because the leaves are larger and more conspicuously mottled. Otherwise the plants are similar, herbaceous perennials with bristly, deep green leaves mottled with silver, and charming clusters of funnel-shaped pink flowers which turn to deep blue, the stems carrying both colours at the same time. They are of the borage family, hardy, and happiest in cool, moist places.

Many of the pulmonarias have spotted or mottled leaves that make good ground-cover. Pulmonaria saccharata. A favourite of the cottage garden, which grows to 12 inches (30 cm), flowers in early spring, opening pink but changing to bine.

The pulmonarias have all sorts of nicknames – lungwort (the leaves are said to resemble lungs, or to be a cure for lung disease), soldiers and sailors, and many more. P. saccharata has been grown in Britain for at least three centuries, a favourite plant of cottagers and herbalists. It is an ideal ground-cover plant for cool borders, or beside a pool, the plants making a carpet which weeds cannot easily penetrate, and seeding freely. The pulmonarias look well with all moisture-loving plants, like Doronicum, Caltha (marsh marigold), or Iris laevigata.

There are varieties with all-white flowers, and others with pale blue flowers.

The plants should be placed 10 inches (25 cm) apart in groups of five, seven, or more, and I like to shear the leaves to the base when the flowers are over, or they may become brown and tatty. If cut down, a new crop will soon appear and will remain fresh for many months, so that the plant is almost evergreen.

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