(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 5, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The English daisy (Bellis perennis) is a member of the aster family. It is thought that the word 'daisy' derives from the Anglo-Saxon 'daes eage' which means 'day's eye'. It has been used medicinally for centuries for eye problems, and Henry VIII of England ate daisies to treat stomach complaints. It is one of the plants mentioned by Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The plant is a low growing perennial found in grassland. It has white ray like flowers surrounding a yellow disc. The small spoon-shaped leaves form a basal rosette with a spreading prostrate habit, and the flowers are single and held above the foliage. The leaves and flowers are edible and can be used in salads.
The flowers are sometimes tinged pink and open at dawn and close again at dusk, and have for generations been a symbol of childhood and innocence. A favourite childhood pastime involves making daisy chains or crowns by making a small slit in the daisy stem and threading another flower through the gap. These chains are then used as necklace, crowns and bracelets. Young girls have traditionally used daisies to tell of their lover's fidelity by pulling off each petal in turn saying 'he loves me, he loves me not'.
Consult any book on lawn care and you will find advice on eradicating daisies from your lawn. They are tenacious plants seemingly resistant to mowing, but to me they are the embodiment of an English summer and I can't imagine open grassland without them. As they can be found growing in cracks in pavement, on walls, roadsides and in compacted soil, this tells you that they are tough plants, well adapted to growing in less than ideal conditions. But for every search you do for eradicating daisies in the lawn you will find another asking how to grow them or where to find seed or plants! The flowers provide valuable nectar for insects such as solitary bees, and the plant can be in flower pretty much year round.
Daisies have been bred to provide bulkier, more colourful varieties to use as bedding. Known as English daisies, these plants come in predominately white, pink and red shades, and the flowers can be single or double. They are offered as seed mixes or as trays or flats of young plants. As they have such a long flowering season they have many uses as bedding plants, usually in the cooler seasons. In larger scale plantings they make superb underplanting companions for spring tulips or wallflowers, and for small spaces they can be tucked into windowboxes. They do well in hanging baskets or winter/spring containers too with pansies, heathers, ivies, ornamental kale and dwarf shrubs.
Tasso - large, up to 6 cm densely double pomponette form with quilled petals in red, white, pink and 'Strawberries and Cream'
Robella - A similar form to Tasso with 5 cm flowers in a shade of salmon pink with a hint of apricot
Pomponette - tightly quilled 4 cm double flowers in red, pink and white
Habanera - loose, long petals in two toned red and whiteup to 6 cm
Polar - pompom flowers with button centres in white, pink and red
Bellisima - large, fully double flowers in white, pink, red and rose bicolour
All photographs in this article are my own.