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THE FLOWER THAT NO GARDEN SHOULD BE WITHOUT
Over the past decade or so there has been a big swing back to traditional gardening methods and styles and deservedly pulmonarias (lungwort) have become increasing popular. BBC’s Gardeners’ World on Friday featured a garden specialising in them. My father, who had very definite opinions and continued his interest in gardening into his 90’s, always referred to pulmonaria as ‘the flower that no garden should be without’. They are one of the first plants to flower when spring arrives and will continue to add colour to the borders well into the summer months. They range in colour from white, pink and red to shades of blue and as an added bonus some species bear white, pink and blue flowers on one plant. As well as providing welcome colour from early in the year they also have attractive foliage which may be spotted or just silver. They are very easy to cultivate as their growing needs are adaptable and pulmonarias will live happily in shady situations, either under trees or walls, or will grow equally well in a sunny situation. However, their ideal situation is either in dappled shade or open ground where the soil is moisture retentive but not waterlogged. They form clumps of dense foliage and provide long lived companions when planted against later flowering shrubs and plants. Most varieties seed themselves around and will soon form good ground cover without being invasive.
As with many of the old cottage garden plants pulmonaria, commonly known as lungwort, also had other country names such as ‘soldiers and sailors’ and ‘spotted dog’. In the dim and distant past it was valued for its medicinal properties. The theory behind the ‘Doctrine of Signatures’, which was in vogue in the 16th century, was that plants had special signs which showed the diseases they were intended to cure. As the leaves of the lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis) were thought to have the appearance of spotty lungs the plant was used to cure chest problems.