It must be 20 years since I’ve grown stocks of any kind and now I’m onto the idea again, because one species is well suited for obscure corners where it will produce intense fragrance at night, and won’t be highly visible by day. The small flowers of night-scented stock (Matthiola bicornis, syn. M. longipetala ssp. bicornis) would be at home in a meadow or growing on a rocky sea cliff, which is exactly where stock ancestors came from. The species flowers are off-white and pale mauve, and the plant has a slightly weedy appearance, a bit floppy, with wilty blossoms in midday sun. But when the air cools in late afternoon, the four-petaled flowers open wide, and a deep scent of nutmeg-vanilla fills the air. These are bewitching flowers, small and innocuous by day, but transforming into night-scented sirens pumping out perfume until dawn. It’s impossible to walk near them without falling into a perfumed cloud.
Night-scented stocks have long been planted in containers and along the edges of beds to provide perfume after sundown. The Victorians put them under windows and brought pots into their conservatories. Hybridizers have been working to improve the 12-inch (30-cm) plant’s floppy posture and dull colours, and I’ve found seed catalogue listings (chilternseeds.co.uk, thompsonmorgan.ca, damseeds.ca, stokeseeds.com) for hybrids with improved colours: sparkling bright ‘White Scentsation’ and pastel pink, purple-lavender and cerise ‘Starlight Scentsation’. Their flowers are slightly larger on 18-inch (45-cm) plants, and will bloom all summer.
I’ve never seen the plants started in garden centres, but seeds are easy to grow. Just press them into soil in a part shade to sun location in early spring. The seeds require light to germinate, so don’t cover them, and expect to see the first seedlings in about 14 days. The plants like good drainage and won’t mind a bit of dryness, which is what they’ll find in my odd corners. They should receive some water each week. Seeds are formed in autumn and can be harvested when the plants are fully dry. In warm regions night-scented stocks sow themselves, and make spontaneous seedlings every year. I don’t know if they’ll be so obliging in our cold climate, but the plant is a hardy annual and seeds might live under the snow. I think this will be one of those fragrances that I won’t want to be without in any summer.
Other posts by Judith this week:
Posts by Judith this week: