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Unfortunate name, beautiful flower. The Pin Cushion!

Some beautiful plants have botanical names that don’t sound very appealing at all. Scabiosa columbaria is a case in point. This lovely low-growing perennial derives its name from its use in folk medicine – the leaves were traditionally used to treat scabies and other skin complaints.

Scabiosa Mauve Delight

Scabiosa columbaria – “Pin Cushion Flower”

Nowadays Scabiosa is grown more as an ornamental plant. The deep green leaves are often a little hairy, about 6-10cm long, with many lobes. The foliage forms a dense mound to about 30cm high, and the flowers are held on slender stems well up above the foliage. The flowers are about 5cm in diameter, with many small ruffled petals surrounding a dense centre. They are usually in shades of purple, mauve, blue, pink and white. These plants flower  profusely over a long period – you can expect to have blooms from about August through to April. When the petals fall, dozens of spiky-looking calyxes persist on the central ball, giving the appearance of a pincushion. This is why one of the common names for Scabiosa is ‘pincushion flower’. The flowers and the ‘pincushions’ look great and last well in a vase.

The flowers are not only lovely to look at but, because they are rich in nectar, they are highly attractive to bees, and the open, flat shape makes them a favourite with nectar-feeding butterflies and ladybeetles.

Scabiosa  prefer a warm, sunny position in well-drained soil enriched with organic matter. They can handle the occasional dry spell, but not frequently waterlogged soil. They will form a clump about 30cm in diameter, and will grow well in garden beds or in pots. They are frost tolerant once established. After a few years, when the plant is a good size, you can divide the clump to make new plants.

They don’t need much care other than watering when required and fertilising a couple of times a year. You can pick the flowers, which will encourage the plant to produce more, but do leave some in the garden for butterflies, bees and ladybeetles to enjoy.

Pincushion flowers look lovely planted with other cottage-type flowers in pastel tones, including bacopa, daisies, pentas, alyssum, lavender and calibrachoa. And don’t forget that lots of our pretty native plants fit perfectly in a flower garden. Dwarf grevilleas, rice flowers, dwarf leptospermums, native daisies, and scaevola would all be suitable companions for pincushion flowers.

Planting a range of flowering plants makes good sense. Not only does it make a garden more attractive and enjoyable for us, but it also makes it more attractive to beneficial insects and birds. Try to have a few different types of blooms available as food sources every single day of the year.

Pincushion flowers are pretty, easy-to-grow plants with a long flowering season, well worth growing. Just don’t be put off by that botanical name.

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