PLANT OF THE WEEK #58: Jacobaea maritima

The whole Plant of the Week thing has a natural tendency towards spotlighting hero plants – the ‘A’ listers of the horticultural world.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last thirty years (and it’s taken most of that time) is that gardens are not made great by precluding all but great plants.  Planting is a team sport, and every hero plant, or superstar, needs to be surrounded by a host of humbler things in order to really shine.

And in this spirit (and with a dose of desperation, given how short on hero plants my garden is right now), I bring to you the rather humble, but infinitely worthy, Jacobaea maritima.

Jacobaea, top right, before these mixed pots turn into a great jostling jungle

You probably know it as Cineraria maritima, or Senecio cineraria, or perhaps silver ragwort, or maybe, along with pretty much every silver plant from, or appropriated by the English-speaking world, as ‘Dusty Miller’.

Being super-fast growing, it’s usually used as an annual, and I I bought mine a few years ago as ‘colour pots’ from Bunnings, in the mix of their ‘advanced’ annuals.  I’d just assumed that it would either be frost tender, or at least intolerant of the long, wet, cold winters we have here, or that it would simply exhaust itself, like so many fast growers, after a couple of growing seasons.  Turns out that it isn’t so, and that with regular brutal cut-backs, it’s capable of lasting many years indeed.  All from a $2 pot.

The silver reaches new levels of prominence during the autumn

Jacobaea maritima is the ultimate team player.  It’s the perfect mixer.  Nearly everything (except, perhaps, yellow) looks better in its company, and it seems to be more than capable of performing while being draped over by surrounding company.

Again, in mixed pots. Jacobaea is the ultimate team player

Somewhere along the line I picked up a form with less extravagantly divided foliage, which is very like a form online known as ‘Cirrus’.  As grateful as I am for the lacy-leafed forms, this variety takes my appreciation to a whole new level.  It’s outrageously metallic in appearance, and glows out in the vegetable garden, which I’m overlooking as I write.

The same mixed pot from above. Good angle from which to compare the silveriness of heavily divided form in the mixed pot, and the much less divided form in the raised bed

Jacobaea maritima is not without its faults.  It regularly seems to hollow out underneath as old leaves shed, signalling that it’s time for a hefty cut.  From my experience it can be cut has hard as you’re prepared to go, and will shoot back immediately, at a rate in keeping with the season (it’ll be way slower to recover in winter).  The other big fault is that it has yellow flowers, and I can hardly think of a grey-leafed, yellow flowered plant that I love (wait – there’s verbascums (with admittedly clear, clean lemon flowers, which sets them apart), horned poppy (Glaucium flavum), tulip poppy (Hunnemannia fumariifolia).  I clearly spoke too soon).  Or maybe it’s that slightly dirty, mustard yellow that’s the killer.  But it’s an easy fix.  Simply trim it over every time it starts to produce flower stems.  If you combine that with a major cutback, you shouldn’t really have to do it more than two or three times a year.

Discussion

  1. Like you, I love this plant. I now live in Perth WA but grew it in Tamworth NSW too, and it performed the same.
    It has been used in multiple groupings in hanging baskets and relishes that life.
    As you do Micheal, I trim the flowers, but it has lasted the life of the hanging basket – sometimes a year or so – looking a picture all the time.

  2. You manage to say so much that one can comment on, Michael. Firstly it was a relief to find out that I indeed know Jacobaea well – from before her name change 😉 I do love your more solid-leaved version. Amazing how often one finds a plant “amongst others” and you just know it is special. You really set me thinking with your comment about yellow flowers on grey leaves. It is possibly the most common combo in many SA plants. I don’t think I dislike it. I’m just a little bored by it. You too, perhaps? There is no rational explanation why grey and yellow should not combine – on the contrary, it is a popular combo. But you’ve made me realise that one of my favourite grey plants, which I grew from a slip nicked on the dunes on the beach I km from home, has the huge advantage of orange flowers. I must post on it. I’m rather proud, because in the process of naming it, I’ve ID’ed a colony some 30km east of its official range. And I believe it has huge garden value, although my one plant has just done a spectacular collapse, having been blissfully happy. I’m too old for temperamental Lovelies, although I think perhaps she thrives on being slighted. I must learn to play it cool…
    .

    1. My wife would say that I say so much (talk so much) that there’s nothing left, no energy left, or no time left, for anyone else to add anything. But as for the yellow and silver thing, I think that the contrast only really works for the purest, lemony yellows. Perhaps its the cool/warm colour combo that’s not so good, or the double de-saturation thing (though in that case, the lemon yellow should work less well). I recall reading in Penelope Hobhouse’s book on Colour, about twenty fine years ago, that in any pair of colours (she was specifically referring to complementary colour parternships, but it works as well for any, I think), if one is going to be desaturated to a tint, it should be the naturally lighter in hue that is further ‘lightened’ (golly, I could have said that so much better, but I’ve gotta get this down and get out of here). So in a yellow/violet scheme (perfect opposites on the colour wheel), a pale yellow goes with a deeper violet, than does a pale violet with a stronger or deeper yellow. Or that with blue and orange, pale orange goes well with a deep blue, but a pale blue doesn’t necessarily go with a deep orange. Maybe that’s why the super-desaturated silver or grey doesn’t work with a strong yellow. Dunno
      I’ve recently purchased Senecio via-vira, which is v v like the Jacobaea in foliage, but has cream flowers. If it performs as well, I might never use Jacobaea again.
      What’s this plant that you grew from the dunes?

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