Plant profile: Nigella

Nigella (Nigella damascene) is a beautiful and easy to grow flower for your summer garden.

Nigella blooms are unlike anything else—to me, they look a bit like a firecracker or a sea creature. They come in a few colours, including white and soft pink, but it’s the blue varieties that I think really stand out in the garden.

Nigella close up

After the plant has finished blooming the seed heads that form make for a whole second show. They turn into puffed green pods, enhanced by a purpley stripe.

Nigella seed head close up

Eventually, the pods and the plant dry out completely and turn light brown. That’s the point when I pull them out. In my garden, they’re showy for about two months, and then they’re done.

Nigella is an annual flower. To grow it all you have to do is scatter some seeds on the soil (don’t worry about trying to do neat rows) in a sunny part of your garden in the spring, cover with a very tiny bit of soil, water, and wait. They’ll grow to be just a bit over a foot high.

These plants don’t transplant very easily, so you’re best to put the seeds exactly where you want the plants to grow. If you have too many coming up in one spot it’s a good idea to thin them out a bit–if you don’t you’ll have a whole bunch of smaller plants with less impressive blooms.  I would not recommend starting nigella seeds inside ahead of time (and I’m not a big fan of indoor seed starting if you’re just getting started as a gardener yourself anyway).

Nigella growing together in the garden

I planted a packet of nigella seeds about a decade ago in my garden (I believe the variety was “Persian Jewels”) and I have never had to plant them again—they just keep coming back! I leave the seed pods on the plants until they dry out, which means that there’s always some seed scattering in my garden.

Interestingly, although I started with a mix of white, pink, and blue flowers (that’s the “Persian Jewels” mix) over the years the pink ones have not kept up, and I’m just left with white and blue flowers. I’m 100 per cent ok with that though, because they’re stunners! And I find that they keep cross-pollinating with each other, creating slightly different variations. Check out the gorgeous fuller shape of the petals in the photo below, versus the more deeply toothed petals in the photo above:

White and blue nigella opening

If you are a foodie you might know nigella seeds as a spice you cook with. The plant that produces the seeds used as a spice is a close cousin but not the same as the one grown in gardens for its beautiful flowers, so I wouldn’t try to eat these.

Nigella has a few common names, including love-in-a-mist. The foliage is very feathery–it looks a lot like dill, to me–so I can see how that creates a bit of a visual effect of mist.

Group of Nigella seed heads

Do you have a spot in your garden where you might be able to squeeze in some nigella?  The seeds are easy to find in most stores that sell garden seeds. Or, if you have a friend growing them this year, ask for some of the dried seed pods and grow from those the next year. They’ll be a welcome addition to your garden for years to come!









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