Contributed by Ginny Oakes

On April 2, 2018

Flying the flag

I can see why this plant, Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’, was so named. If you don’t already know, which I didn’t, the Blue Ensign is a flag used by certain organisations or territories associated with the United Kingdom. It has a blue field with the Union Flag occupying one quarter of the field and placed in the canton, which is the area at the top hoist corner of a flag. The blue of the pulmonaria is well matched to that of the Blue Ensign. 

According to The Hardy Plant Society booklet ‘Pulmonarias, by Jennifer Hewitt, “Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ is a free-flowering, showy plant with quite large but compact heads of rich blue-violet flowers with long styles, on fairly upright stems up to 30cm tall. The long and narrow basal leaves are dark green and unspotted, the blades up to 25cm long, and not very bristly. It may perhaps be a hybrid of two blue-flowered, green-leaved species.” It was awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit in 2012.

There are about 14 species of Pulmonaria from Europe and Asia, found in a wide range of habitats, but usually in partial shade where the soil is cool. Members will be familiar with some of the many of the cultivars developed from them, some of the first plants to flower and bringing welcome colour to the spring garden. After flowering the leaves develop into clumps of fresh basal leaves, which provide good ground cover until the following spring. They all need a fairly open but moisture-retentive soil in partial or full shade.

But – there has to be an exception which proves the rule, doesn’t there? At our Spring Plant Fair I read this on the label attached to some ‘Blue Ensign’ on a nursery stand, “Outstanding variety whose dark green leaves emerge in spring with flower stalks topped with vivid royal blue blooms, after which the leaves disappear. Tidy!” Further investigation needed, perhaps.

Whether it keeps its leaves or not it is an amazing plant in a beautiful shade of blue, which always attracts attention. We’re flying the flag for Number 21.

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