Pulmoaria was never one of my favourite plants when I first started gardening, it was one of those plants that continually used to appear in completely the wrong place. I was always weeding it out and could never find a home for those spotty leaves which I thought looked diseased. However, after seeing it planted in a woodland setting and flowering en masse, I started to figure out how you could make the best of this cheerful little plant.
Pulomarias are often called Lungwort and I’ve often wondered why. It turns out it gets its name from the fact that herbalists from long ago thought the leaves of the plant looked like a lung and, therefore would treat lung disorders. The supposed medicinal effects of the plant have long since been disproved, but the name has stuck.
Pulmomarias are most often grown for their interesting leaves, which are green with random white spots, looking as though someone liberally splashed bleach on them. The leaves also have a rough, hairy fuzz covering them. The flower appears in early spring and can be blue, pink or white and is frequently two or more colours on a single plant. Often the flowers will start out one colour before eventually fading into another colour as the flower ages. Pulmonarias flower early and are easy to grow but devilish to distinguish. This is a promiscuous plant with scores of named forms in circulation. Not all are true to name and some varieties are definitely better than others.
The Pulmonarias are native to the mountainous regions of south and central Europe, where they grow in the protection of deciduous trees, whose growth cycle perfectly matches the needs of the plants growing at their base. In early spring, bare branches let in the light that Pulmonarias need to initiate new growth, as the trees’ leaves develop, they shield plants from summer heat then as leaves fall and decay at the end of the growing season, they form an incomparable mulch that surrounds plant roots with the cooling moisture they need to survive and prosper. There’s no better guide to growing Pulmonarias than trying to mimic their wild habitat. Grow Pulmonarias in cool shady places – they hate to dry out in summer. If planted in full sun, the plant will wilt and appear sickly. The first sign that they are unhappy is mildewed leaves. Forestall this by keeping them watered. If you are too late and leaves are already infected, cut them all off and give it a good can of water.
Once established, Pulmonarias need little extra care, they are surprisingly resilient. You only need to water them in times of drought and they only need light fertilizer once a year.
After figuring out that these plants are actually garden worthy, they are often a welcome addition to many of my planting schemes. They provide a great contrast in colour to a lot of the spring bulbs and also great groundcover for those shady corners later in the year. There are plenty of planting combinations that make the most out of this great little plant, however I must confess that the blue flowering varieties, like “Blue Ensign”, are my favourites. Try combining with Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ and yellow narcissi like “Jetfire” or “Tete a Tete”. The paler flower colours stand out well on their own and they could be used to break up dark and sultry hellebores and tulips. The silver-leaved forms are excellent planted close to dark tree trunks – the shiny mahogany trunk of Prunus serrula for instance. Pulmonarias look wonderful with dark plum forms of Helleborus orientalis and a few of the late-flowering snowdrops are also a perfect setting for them. Other good foils include the acid greens of early euphorbias, the lime-green leaves of hemerocallis and the pretty golden grass, Milium effusum ‘Aureum’.motilium order