Whenever I see stocks (Matthiola incana) in supermarket bouquets, I always sneak close and try to get a whiff of them. Usually their odor is faint under such circumstances, though, possibly because those flowers exhale most of their famous fragrance at night.
So, last summer, I attempted to grow stocks in my garden instead. Unfortunately, some of our local pests apparently think they look good enough to eat.
Of the six or seven seedlings of ‘Vintage Antique Mix’ I set out last spring, only a couple survived long enough to bloom in June. The others mysteriously disappeared. I’m guessing that the culprit was slugs, as I can see what looks like slug damage on the flower I photographed, which appears to your right. But the plants , being members of the eminently edible cabbage family, may have attracted rabbits or other varmints too.
Their lush double blooms actually make them look as if they should belong to the cabbage rose family. Even with double cultivars, though, a fairly high percentage of blooms will revert back to single flowers. You supposedly can weed those out by keeping in mind that seedlings of single-flowered types tend to have darker, rounder seed leaves than those of double-flowered types. The differences often only show up under quite chilly conditions, though, and I’m not prejudiced enough against the single flowers to discard their plants.
Although my mix was supposed to include copper, peach, and yellow blooms, I only got yellow—or what actually was closer to a cream color with a yellow center. But it was gorgeous enough to convince me to try again this year.
I generally press stock seeds into the surface of the seed-starting mix without covering them. When kept at temperatures in the 60s Fahrenheit, they begin sprouting in about three days, but may take up to two weeks to germinate.
Like cabbage, stocks don't mind chilly conditions and often are grown during winter down south. Some sources claim that they tolerate temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but I wouldn't count on that! I probably could have set my seedlings out in mid-April here, but they still are languishing on a porch table now in early May.
The most common annual type supposedly takes ten weeks to bloom from seed. So, if you want stocks perfuming your outdoors in early June, you will need to plant them indoors by mid-March. When setting them out in a flowerbed, choose a location—such as under your bedroom window or fronting a porch—where you will be able to enjoy their fragrance in the evening.
They can flower all summer where that season is cool, but tend to opt out when things heat up here in Pennsylvania. The column type most often used in bouquets can reach 3 feet in height, but some cultivars don’t surpass 8 or 10 inches. Those shorter varieties reportedly make good winter-flowering pot plants in cool greenhouses--perhaps under basement grow lights too? I haven’t tried that yet, but it may be one way to keep them away from our voracious slugs!
The cropped banner photo is by Emily Orpin, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and this license. The photo of the cream-colored stock is my own and the cropped and enhanced photo of the single lavender variety by Kenpei, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and this license. The cropped and enhanced seeds photo is by ladygardener1 from the Dave's Garden PlantFiles and the antique image from Collection des Vélins du Muséum National D’histoire Naturelle, Vol. 42 by Abeille De Fontainne, courtesy of plantillustrations.org.