Clarkia unguiculata | Elegant Clarkia ‘Lilac’
Elegant Clarkia, also known as Mountain Garland, Elegant Fairyfan, and Farewell-to-Spring, are annual plants named after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. (Lewis is remembered with the genus Lewisia.) Elegant Clarkia is endemic to California where it is found in many woodland habitats, specifically on the forest floor of many oak woodlands. Clarkia unguiculata presents a spindly, hairless, waxy stem not exceeding 3 ft in height and bears occasional narrow leaves. The showy flowers have four triangular or diamond-shaped paddle-like petals in blindingly bright shades of pink to reddish and purple. In form, Elegant Clarkia is upright, many-branched and somewhat stiff-looking if planted in sun, slightly less so in shade. Pinching off the tips when the plants are small will increase branching.
Clarkias are easy to grow and provide masses of color, quickly! They bloom at the end of the wildflower season, hence their common name ‘Farewell-to-Spring’. They are highly prized for delivering masses of blooms when most other spring-blooming plants are fading and summer bloomers have not quite begun yet. Often grows on dry, open slopes, but is also seen in the shade of trees and larger shrubs. Its ability to flower in partial shade makes Clarkia unguiculata particularly useful in the garden. Like its relative though, the Godetia, it may not survive when planted in a climate that’s too arid or humid. Additionally, Clarkias need soil that is lacking in nutrients, otherwise it will produce more folaige than blooms. Soil that is low in nitrogen supports this flower particularly well.
Clarkias are included in most wildflower seed mixes because they have a long bloom season, which extends the blooming mix well into June. At the flower market, Clarkias are often sold as Godetias. This name refers to an older name of the genus which was abandoned long ago, but is sometimes still used in the flower trade.
Makes a great choice for new gardens as it quickly fills in bare patches, providing foliage and loads of color in short order. Plus will readily self-sow for fresh plants next year. Clay tolerant, but plant in rich, well-draining soil for best performance. Seeds germinate best when sown outdoors at the beginning of the rainy season. May be planted every two weeks to extend the bloom season. If started indoors, young plants may not transplant well.
The flowers are pollinated by native bees, but also attract hummingbirds. They are often the food source of Swallowtail caterpillars. Deer resistant.
Elegant clarkia makes a long-lasting cut flower and is often used in bouquets and floral arrangements.
Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade
Mature height: 3 ft
Mature width: 6-10 inches
Hardiness zones: All (annual)