The spicy fragrance of Stock, Matthiola (mat-ee-ohl'-a) has been a European favourite since the Middle Ages when it was known as Gillyflower.These flowers were often carried to ward off disease and 'bad odours' as was the closely related Wallflower, which was also called a Gillyflower.
Today Stock are treasured for their divine, sweet clove scent and fluffy soft blooms. The plants produce both single and double blooms. The single ones are female and the double flowered ones are usually sterile male plants. It is these single flowered species that give away their rather humble but hardy origins. For these are relatives of the large Brassica Family of plants that not only include as relatives Cheiranthus, the Wallflower, but also Broccoli, Cabbages and Cauliflower, Radish, Turnip and Mustard, even Horseradish! So it
should not be surprising that their flowers are mildly edible.
Of the 50 or more species only 2 are in much cultivation: M incana and M. longipetala. Most Stocks are perennial sub-shrubs. The finest of these have been bred into a number of hybrid cultivars that are indispensable as glasshouse flowers grown by the millions for the florist trade. Most of these are various forms of Column Stock. These produce a rosette of silvery grey green leaves that produce one tall central flower spike which can easily attain 1m/3ft or more in the glasshouse or ideal micro-climate outdoors. Sometimes, when grown outdoors or in the cool glasshouse, this central spike can be cut down and several more smaller side shoots will develop. But most commercial Growers usually remove the entire plant when the first spectacular column of sweet clove-scented blooms begins to open.
Varieties like Brompton and Giant Imperial are often grown as biennials. Thus they are plant in Spring/Summer for flowering the following Spring/Summer. Some will continue on as short-lived perennials. These are rather bushy open plants with multiple flower heads. Plants can attain 1m/3ft and almost as broad by their second year.
Dwarf 10 Week Stock is used as an annual cottage garden plant.This smaller variety usually only reaches 30cm/1ft. more or less and almost as broad. All these cultivars produce the same colour range as the Giant Column Stocks with each floret about the same size, too, but just on smaller plants with multiple smaller flower heads that branch and flower repeatedly over many months when grown in the right location.
Because Stocks prefer cool, sunny conditions, they make ideal late Spring and Summer bedding plants in cooler southern districts of the Southern Hemisphere. There they can also be flowered over the mild Winter months especially in the 'Winterless' northern climates. In moderate climate regions of New Zealand and native South Africa they can be had in flower for much of the year.
In the Northern Hemisphere,they are ideally suited to cool coastal and Mediterranean climates plus anywhere that experiences limited Winter freezing, or better only minor Winter frosts followed by a long cool Spring and Summer. So they are often grown as a Winter bedding plant in the southern United States, Coastal and Southern Europe and South-eastern and Coastal Asian climates.
And sometimes as a Spring and Summer bedding plant in the United Kingdom. In warmer climates with hot Summer seasons, they can also be started from seed in very early Spring and grown on in a partly shaded, cooler spot through Summer heat where they will come into flower in the cooler and damper days of Autumn into early Winter.
Seedlings of very hardy M. incana (pictured here) the Dwarf Stock, can be planted throughout the Autumn in all but the coldest districts for Spring flowering. The plants can tolerate some light Winter freezing or frosts when in their developing vegetative stages, But once plants reach budding and flowering their spikes are damaged by cold weather.
Choose a sunny spot with good air flow. Almost droughty sites are preferred. Wet ground or cold, sodden soil will rot their roots very quickly. To avoid disease, choose a different planting spot each year. Soil should be deeply dug and must drain freely. Light fluffy soils or even sandy land is best. Enrich with bone dust, well-aged manure, mature compost, commercial fertiliser in a balanced ratio like 10-10-10 and generous liming. Stock does not do very well in acid pH soils.
Water the seedlings in lightly at planting but avoid over-watering as they develop. Stocks perform best when the plants are kept fed and growing strongly at all times. Secrets to creating really excellent exhibition blooms are the same as they are for creating exhibition Cabbages and Cauliflower.
When only double-flowered blooms are desired, thin the seedlings out while still young. Seedlings that produce thin, willowy leaves on faster and taller growing seedlings usually end up producing single female blooms. Shorter, stocky seedlings with broader leaves are the double male flowers.
Pinching out all side shoots except the central leader, especially with Column Stock or larger bushy cultivars, will encourage one giant flower spike. This is how the largest exhibition blooms are created. Pinching out the growing tip at 10cm/4 inches will produce a bushy plant with many smaller blooms. Even with Column Stock, this will produce several impressive blooms on a stockier plant which are excellent for cutting and exhibition.
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