The lungworts (Pulmonarias) are in season with their attractive foliage and pretty flowers. Lungwort” is rather an odd name for plant – the lung herb – and it dates back to the 1600s when the Doctrine of Signatures was in vogue – a plant was used to treat ailments in those parts of the body which it resembled and as the pulmonaria resembles the lungs it became the “lungwort”. This approach to medicine is long discarded yet there are some who suggest that lungwort may well be of benefit as an antioxidant. Its common name in French and German also reflects it former medicinal use.
Nowadays pulmonaria is valued for its ornamental contribution to the garden and its ease of cultivation. It is no wonder that it has long been in our gardens and is regarded as one of essential cottage garden plants. When the flowers are over we cut the plants back completely to the ground, removing all flowers and foliage, and the plants recover quickly with new fresh foliage to give interest for the rest of the season. We have found it benefits from damp soil and some shade and is inclined to struggle in a dry hot position. Given suitable conditions plants will bulk up quickly and can be divided very easily to increase numbers.
Of the pulmonarias in our garden ‘Blake’s Silver’ is a seedling which arose in June Blake’s garden in Blessington, Co. Wicklow, selected for its very attractive foliage. ‘David Ward’ is the Garden Director at the Beth Chatto gardens and spotted the attractive plant, silver foliage with a white edge and blue flowers, which bears his name. ‘Diane Clare’, somewhat similar and always a little earlier to flower here, was found by Bob Brown of Cotswold Plants and named for his wife. It is one of the aristocrats of the pulmonaria world. ‘Blue Ensign’ is an outstanding blue, admired by all who see it. The origins of ‘Polar Splash’ and ‘Blue Mist’, the latter a gorgeously delicate light blue, are a mystery to me but liked nonetheless. ‘Glebe Cottage Blue’ is an equally delicate and attractive light blue while ‘Glebe Cottage Pink’ veers to the reddish side of pink. Both originated in Carol Klein’s garden and came to us via Helen Dillon. ‘Sissinghurst White’ has obvious origins while it is less obvious that ‘Blue Ensign’ originated at Wisley Gardens. There are others not yet open here and, of course, many others available which we might try some day.
As with many an old plant a whole range of other names have been applied to the lungwort and it has an equally wide range of stories to go with it but those are for another day. For today we will be happy to simply enjoy the pulmonarias we have in flower today.