With miniature Snapdragon-like flowers that glisten from short spikes, Linaria maroccana is one of the best ever, cheery and colourful of all garden plants. Appropriately named, this ethereal-hued variety blooms with all the colours of the ‘Northern Lights’, a multitude of bright shades and hues including amethyst, violet and magenta.
Linaria maroccana, often called 'Fairy Flax' when it was introduced into gardens in 1872, is an erect, slender annual plant with small lance-shaped fleshy, emerald green leaves. The long-spurred, two-lipped, snapdragon-like flowers appear in June to September in a multitude of bright colours and reach a height of around 50 to 60cm (20 to 24in) tall with a spread of 25 to 30cm (10 to 12in).
Very easy to grow, they require no special care, the seeds can simply be thrown directly where they are to grow to fill a sunny corner for months at a stretch, or can be sown indoors for an earlier start to the season. A position with full sun to light shade suits them and they will enjoy anything from light dry soil to rich moist well-draining soil.
Linaria maroccana give a truly spectacular show, bringing colour to the garden early in the season.
They work well in beds, borders, meadows or cottage gardens. They look stunning when heavily seeded in an isolated area and will happily mingle with other annuals, perennials or grasses. They can also be grown in containers, the lovely little bright coloured blooms are perfect for use as a cut flower for small bouquets in a small jug or vase and for more delicate arrangements.
Linaria maroccana ‘Northern Lights’ won the prestigious AAS Award in 1934 and quickly became established as an easily grown garden favourite.
Timing: Sow outdoors from February to May and August to October.
Sow the seeds directly where they are to flower in mid to late spring after the last frosts in your area. Alternatively, the seed can be sown indoors 7 to 8 weeks before transplanting outside, once the minimum temperature remains above 15°C (60°F).
If you live in an area with a warmer climate, the seeds can also be sown in autumn for an earlier spring flowering next year.
Linaria maroccana seeds usually takes around two weeks to germinate at temperatures of 20 to 30°C. (68 to 86°F) and will flower around 8 to 10 weeks from sowing, from June to July right up to the first frosts in late autumn. The seeds need warmth to germinate, do not exclude light at any stage, as this also aids germination.
The seed of Linaria is very fine. When sowing very fine seeds directly where the flowers are meant to grow, many gardeners mix the seed with dry sand and then broadcast this mix very thinly. This usually provides enough spacing between seedlings so that little if any thinning-out is necessary. Seedlings can later be thinned so the plants are not overcrowded or shaded by nearby growth. Thinnings can be successfully transplanted on damp, cloudy days. But these plants will always be a bit inferior to those that have grown their entire life without transplant shock.
Another secret for creating the most successful displays is thorough weeding. It is usually best to prepare the planting site in advance and then let the bed settle. Allow whatever weed seed there is in the bed to germinate, then rake or weed this out, once or twice prior to broadcasting the Linaria seed. Raking or slicing through the topsoil and weeds on a dry, sunny and windy day will cause the weed seedlings to almost immediately shrivel and return back to the soil as a ‘green manure’ and eliminates the effort of hand-weeding.
This eliminates almost all weeds that might otherwise crowd-out or overshadow the delicate and small seedlings. Otherwise, it is often very difficult to successfully traditionally weed amongst tiny Linaria seedlings because they are so fine, small and shallow-rooted.
Pulling out any nearby weeds almost surely will damage a number of nearby Linaria seedlings which will later-on limit their ultimate performance.
Linaria maroccana can be grown outdoors by sowing directly outdoors after the last frost of spring. Choose a position that is sunny and well drained with an average soil. Cultivate the area, removing any weeds or stones and rake the soil to a fine tilth.
It is a good idea to mark the sowing areas with a ring of light coloured sand and label if sowing if sowing around other perennial plants of if sowing with more than one annual in the same bed. Sow the seeds finely on the surface of the soil. Do not cover the seed with soil, just firm them in, to ensure that the seeds have contact with the soil and receive moisture. Keep the soil moderately moist during germination.
When large enough to handle, thin out the seedlings in spring until they are 20cm (8in) apart
If you prefer to start early indoors then seeds should be sown about seven or eight weeks before they are due to be put in the garden.
Use pots or trays containing moistened seed compost. Keep the compost moist, do not water directly onto the surface of the seeds or seedlings, but water from the base of the tray and then drain. When large enough to handle, transplant seedlings into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Grow on in cooler conditions and transplant outdoors a few weeks after the last frost once the minimum temperature remains above 15°C (60°F), plant 20 to 25cm (8 to 10in) apart.
Autumn sown seeds should be overwintered in cool, light, frost-free conditions before planting out the following spring.
Once they are established the plants need little care. After the first flush of flowers is spent, the plants can be sheered by two-thirds to induce rebloom. When the flowers are removed for use in arrangements, the plant, will blossom with renewed vigour.
Linaria maroccana will bloom from spring right through to autumn in areas with a cool summer climate. In hot climates they may stop blooming in the height of summer, especially if they do not receive rainfall, but will resume flowering once temperatures lower. They are fairly drought tolerant but would appreciate watering during dry summer months.
All Linaria make excellent and long-lasting cut flowers, a number of annual and perennial species and varieties are grown commercially for the Florist Trade. Flowers are usually cut as the first few blooms open on each stem. Flowers will continue to open up the stem for a week or more. If the flowers remain in bright indirect light and stems are recut and the water is changed regularly, they will continue to flower ‘travelling’ up the stem sometimes lasting for several weeks as a cut flower.
Borders and Beds, Dry or Gravel Gardens, Cottage Gardens, Alpine and Rockeries, Wildlife Gardens, Cut Flower Garden
The genus Linaria contains 125 species, native to the Northern Hemisphere and South America, seven of which are found in England. Linaria maroccana is native to Morocco.
The species is in the plantain family, Scrophulariaceae. It is cultivated as an ornamental plant and can be found growing wild as an introduced species. Several toadflaxes are wayside and wasteland flowers. The purple toadflax is a common stray around railway embankments and walls. The common toadflax, Linaria vulgaris, is butter-yellow with an orange centre and most closely resembles its cousin the snapdragon.
The genus name Linaria was given it by Linnaeus. It derives from the Latin linum meaning 'flax,' from its likeness to a flax plant before flowering. It refers to the flax-like leaves of some species
The species name maroccana denotes the origin of this species, and means 'of Morocco'.
It was often called 'Fairy Flax' when it was introduced into gardens in 1872.
The common name Toadflax originated in the resemblance of the flower to little toads, there being also a resemblance between the mouth of the flower and the wide mouth of a toad.
Coles says that the plant was called Toadflax, 'because Toads will sometimes shelter themselves amongst the branches of it.'
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2 grams Average Seed Count 30,000 seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 15,000 seeds per gram Family Plantaginaceae Genus Linaria Species maroccana Cultivar Northern Lights Synonym Linaria x versicolor Common Name Annual, Moroccan or Spurred Toadflax Other Common Names Baby Snapdragon Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers A myriad of bright and striking shades. Natural Flower Time The bloom from July and continue all summer Height 50 to 60cm (20 to 24in) Spread 25 to 30cm (10 to 12in) Position Full sun for best flowering Soil Well-drained/ light / sandy Time to Sow February to June or September to October Germination 5 to 10 days at 15 to 20°C (59 to 68°F).