AS HARBINGERS of spring, you will struggle to find a more remarkable plant.
Three weeks ago there was hardly a sign of life out of the over-wintered clumps of Pulmonarias and yet now they are coming into full flower, with new luxurious foliage beginning to emerge at the same time.
As natives of Europe and Asia the 14 species of this low growing herbaceous perennial have given us some wonderful hybrids to choose from and, as they are all suited to moist woodland and streamside situations, most gardens can find an awkward space for them to fill.
It is best to avoid very dry soils as this will encourage powdery mildew to attack the summer foliage, ruining that valuable part of their seasonal display.
This summer foliage is often covered in silvery-grey spots that are said to have given the plants its name – likened to diseased lungs which pulmonaria was supposed to cure in days gone by – hence both its common and scientific names.
To get the best out of pulmonarias, they should be lifted, divided and replanted immediately after flowering into well-prepared ground that will hold onto moisture during the summer months and this will also increase the size of the leaves, further enhancing the summer effect.
With over 190 species and hybrids listed in the RHS Plant Finder, it is difficult to know where to start offering you some ideas on what to choose - the secret is to search out examples at nurseries, plant fairs and garden centres and to swap with friends and neighbours.
Some of the truly blue-flowered hybrids are a must so look out for P. angustifolia azurea and P. Mawson’s Blue. For good examples of leaf spotting that adds such an interesting feature in summer, look out for P. saccharata hybrids such as Leopard’ and ‘Fruhling shimmel.’
Of course, the commonly available P. officinalis is wonderful in flower and has given rise to a pure white hybrid Sissinghurst White which is worthy of any garden.