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Valuable for its late-summer flowering and unusual colour, this perennial provides a vivid shot of blue in borders and meadows.
Devil’s-bit Scabious is one of our few wildflowers that provides a splash of true-blue in our countryside. It’s a clump-forming perennial, growing slowly and spreading into sizeable patches of broad, lance-shaped leaves. These arise in pairs and are dark bluish-green, often marked with purple blotches and with contrasting pale midribs. The flower stems arise in late summer, branching several times to produce clouds of flowers above the foliage. These are best described a perfect little pincushions, tight domes of tiny flowers with their little stigmas sticking out. Opening from July until October, they provide a valuable late source of nectar and pollen and are beloved by bees and butterflies. For the garden, ‘Alba’ is white-flowered, 'Derby Purple' is a more compact form with bluish-purple flowers and ‘'Peddar's Pink' has pale pink flowers.
In the wild, Devil’s-bit Scabious is not uncommon, especially on soils that are low in nutrients and mildly acidic. It can be found growing in damp meadows, on woodland rides and edges, in heathlands and around acidic bogs. In upland areas it grows on cliff ledges and rocky streamsides. Although still widespread, it has declined in parts of England nearly to the point of becoming threatened.
Place this plant in rich, fertile soil in the garden and it completely changes its character, becoming a vast, leafy thing with few flowers. It’s best grown in poor soil in a border or wildflower meadow. It will grow in dry soil but avoid very hot, sun-baked spots. Plants can be obtained from specialist suppliers of wildflowers, or sow seed in autumn and overwinter outside to germinate the following spring. Alternatively, lift and divide clumps in late autumn.
A remarkable display of Devil's-bit Scabious in a meadow, Conwy © Trevor Dines/Plantlife