This flower is seldom grown in glass-houses. It’s a hardy annual now seldom grown anywhere else, save by children who sow it in some ‘easy’ mix. However it will be recognised by nostalgic and knowing gardeners with a love for perfume. For this is a plant grown solely for it’s divine floral scent, such a wonderful sweet and pleasing perfume it is. Indeed this gorgeous smell is why I took to growing Matthiola bicornis under cover where enjoying that scent is less impeded by wet weather and captured, concentrated maybe even becoming too strong for some.
Perhaps it is the very ease of growing this cast-iron-certainty plant that puts us off. For I guarantee that no matter how badly you treat this short of complete dessication it will still make a flower bud or two. Of course, you want to treat it better and get many blooms, but regardless it will always make some. Then in the cool of the evening those pale white blueish or purplish petals will open and diffuse the powerful beautiful penetrating aroma of cloves, vanilla and exotic over-tones.
Night Scented Stock has been in our gardens for Millenia. Known to the Ancients it is native all over Southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. Almost a weed it is a slender willowish plant a foot or two tall and better sown en masse to give a whole heap of flowers.
Usually grown outdoors it’s quite hardy and is in fact a biennial though so quick to bloom we treat it as an annual. Under cover you can have many batches over a year, each in no more than a six inch pot of any half decent compost.
For Night Scented Stock needs no special treatment, no feeding and just sufficient watering to prevent death. Rarely bothered by pests or disease the only slight criticism one can make is the flowers close during the day presenting a ‘gone over’ appearance. Of course come the cool of the evening they open again, and in such numbers even a small pot has uncountable starry blooms. The daytime aspect can be improved by mixing in the similar Virginian Stocks, these have no scent but bright cheerful flowers staying open all day.
There are a few selected named strains of Night Scented Stock with stronger colours, the perfume is fortunately unchanged. Then there are other similarly scented species including our rare native Giant Sea Stock M. sinuata found in the South West, M. elliptica from N. Africa, and M. incana, the wild ancestor of all our Brompton, Lothian and Winter-flowering Stocks, but that’s another story.