Gay Mallow

'Burgundy Wine'
Gay Mallow

"There the pink mallow grows
and in their season
and there, later,
we went to gather
the wild plum."

-William Carlos Williams


Because Lavatera thuringiaca 'Burgundy Wine' is notably drought tolerant (within reason), it was planted in our street-margin sun-garden near the Chinese mountain ash, an area only occasionally watered.

Gay MallowThough L. thuringiaca is typically called Tree Mallow because of its tree-like stance & large size, the particular cultivar 'Burgundy Wine' falls considerably short of being the size of a tree, so the alternative names Shrub Mallow or Gay Mallow are better for it. Or just Lavatera.

It is a large perennial subshrub with very pretty crinkly-looking tough grey-green leaves. Being semi-evergreen in temperate climates, it holds the majority of its leaves through the whole of winter here on Puget Sound. It will thrive further north as a die-back perennial.

Just before new spring growth begins, it is best to cut the entire plant down to about a foot of height, even if it still has the majority of the previous year's leaves & is not too winter-worn. After such a pruning it will spring up marvelously freshened, compact, & bushy. The select cultivar 'Burgundy Wine' grows four to six feet, with a three or four foot spread, so is quite a bit smaller than most Lavetera.

The species grows wild from Germany, the Balkans, Russia & into Asia minor, & has been kept in European gardens for centuries. 'Burgundy Wine' was developed by Peter Catt of Liss Forest Nurseries in Hampshire, England. It was for a long time thought to be a self-seeded spontaneous mutation of L. x clementii 'Rosea' as spotted in Peter Catt's own garden in 1988, having a growth habit very similar to 'Rosea.'

It is still often mistakenly listed in sales catalogs as a hybrid or of uncertain species. For some while no one was absolutely certain what species it was, & mutation of 'Rosea' was just a guess. But DNA investigation established it definitively as a sport of L. thuringiaca, always remaining shorter & more compact than the species as a whole, with flowers which though large & vibrant are nevertheless only two-thirds the size of the species.

'Burgundy Wine' is a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. Its name doesn't quite capture the color of the flowers, which are a rich pink, not burgundy. It blooms a very long time, at least from June to October, attracting butterflies & hummingbirds. Ours begins blooming the first week in June & makes a startling impact.

See also:
Lavatera x clementii 'Barnsley' shrub mallow


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