Polemonium ‘Glebe Cottage Lilac’
I’ve had this plant for at least 20 years. It was originally spotted by Carol Klein at Glebe Cottage in Devon but seems to have largely passed out of cultivation. This is a pity because it’s a real favourite of mine. It produces soft clusters of delicious pale lilac flowers, which open paler and sport lovely orange stamens. It is sterile and so is very long flowering and non seeding. It is prone to mildew later in the season, especially in hot weather, but it soon bounces back if trimmed off. Late Spring to early Summer. for moisture retentive soil in sun or part shade. 60cm
Polemoniums have a bit of a reputation as Cinderella plants – easily overlooked and ubiquitous. There are, however, one or two gems amongst their ranks. Plants such as Polemonium ‘Lambrook Mauve’ will flower and flower for months and Polemonium ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has the most lovely foliage to boot.
They can be short lived if not divided every few years and grow best in sun in any reasonable soil providing they are not kept too dry. Both Polemonium caeruleum and Polemonium reptans grow in damp grassland in the wild. Polemoniums, with the exception of P.viscosum are good with chalk. Too dry a soil can allow mildew to creep in .
Polemoniums are colloquially the Jacobs ladders, a reference to the ladder to heaven dreamt of by Jacob on his flight from his brother Esau. It comes from the stacked leaflets arranged like the treads of a staircase, but also, being a biblical reference suggests a plant long cultivated in gardens.
Polemoniums have some small herbal history. They were previously called Greek Valerian, a complete misnomer, but probably another reference to the divided leaf, being somewhat similar to true Valerian. It has been said that the plant is also attractive to Cats in a similar way to valerian. Polemonium was not greatly used, but I do note that the active ingredients were extracted in whisky, which no doubt increased its efficacy greatly !
The American, Polemonium reptans been more used for complaints from Scrophula to Snake Bites, in all cases inducing copious perspiration and earning it the name Sweatroot.
Polemonium derives from the Greek ‘polemos’= war, though the connection is obscure and isn’t recorded, or possibly from the Greek Philosopher Polemon. The name is ancient, having been used by Dioscorides.
Polemonium caeruleum – Greek Valerian, Jacob’s ladder, Charity, Sky Pilot
Polemonium reptans – Abscess Root, American Greek Valerian, Blue Bells, False Jacob’s Ladder, Sweatroot