Nigella (Nigella damascena) earns the common name love-in-a-mist because of the tangle of ferny, fennel-like foliage that forms a mist around the flowers. Once you see N. damascena in bloom, you will always recognize it by its unique mist of airy bracts and foliage.
The foliage of N. damascena plant is ferny, the flowers are fluffy, and the seed pods are intriguing. Best known for the vivid blue-blossom variety, love-in-a-mist also has cultivars that bloom in purples, pinks, and white. Plant these adaptable flowers in the spring or even in the fall. The plants grow to nearly 2 feet and bloom for several weeks, starting in the late spring. When they resow, you'll have blooms through fall.
|Botanical Name||Nigella Damascena|
|Common Name||Love-in-a-mist, nigella|
|Mature Size||8–20 in. tall, 3–6 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Average, well-drained|
|Soil pH||6.6 to 7.5|
|Bloom Time||Late spring to fall|
|Flower Color||Blue, purple, pink, white|
|Hardiness Zones||2–11 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Southern Europe, North Africa, Southwest Asia|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people|
Love-in-a-mist is a wonderful cottage garden plant and a great filler. The airy foliage makes a nice complement to broader-leaved plants.
The flowers keep well when cut, and even the seed pods can be dried and used in arrangements. To dry the pods, cut while the pods are still green and somewhat fresh. Tie the stems into a bundle and hand upside down to dry. You can cut the seed pods in half to display the interesting seed chamber structure. As a note of interest, the flower's botanical genus name is derived from Niger, the Latin word for black, which refers to the rich black seeds of the plant, and the species is named after Damascus, a city near which the plant grows in the wild.
Nigella does not like being transplanted, so it does best if seeds are direct-sown outdoors. Seeds can be sown from early spring throughout the summer and even in fall in climates with mild winters when they'll overwinter without problems.
When sowing seeds in early spring, do so when the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Fall sow in areas where winters are mild. To sow, simply scatter the seeds and rake them in. You don't really need to cover the seeds with soil, but they do need to be pressed down slightly and kept moist before germinating in two to three weeks. You'll have better success if you sow the seeds in a sunny location. Thin seedlings so they're spaced 2 to 9 inches apart.
Nigella is a short-lived plant and probably won't make it through an entire growing season. For continuous blooms throughout the summer, make succession plantings every three weeks. Once your plants have begun to scatter seed on their own, you won't need to continue sowing. Luckily, N. damascena is virtually problem-free once established, probably because the plants don't live long enough to be bothered by pests or disease.
Love-in-a-mist will grow the most flowers in full sun, but it will do fine in partial shade.
N. damascena is not overly particular about soil quality, but it will grow and bloom best in nutrient-rich, fertile soil. When it grows in native areas, the plant prefers moist sandy soil, though it doesn't like to sit in wet soil and does best with a neutral soil pH. Love-in-a-mist can tolerate somewhat dry conditions, as well as other types of soil, including loam, clay-loam, and gravelly soil.
Water the flowers one to two times per week during dry periods. During other times of the year, check the moisture of the soil and water if necessary.
Temperature and Humidity
Sow in the early spring months when the soil temperature has reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The plant thrives in temperatures between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add a general-purpose fertilizer to the soil when planting Nigella damascena, and then fertilize it once a month afterward.
Several N. damascena cultivars have been developed for gardens throughout temperate areas. Common cultivars include:
- 'Miss Jekyll', a popular series with flowers in shades of white, blue, and rose
- 'Miss Jekyll Alba', a double white-flowered cultivar with bright green seed pods
- 'Persian Jewels', a mix of bloom colors and grows 12 to 18 inches
- 'Blue Midget', a dwarf variety that grows to only about 10 inches and nice for edging
- 'Cambridge Blue', a long-stemmed variety with double blue flowers and best for cutting
Other cultivars worth looking into include 'Mulberry Rose', 'Oxford Blue', and 'Albion'.
Cutting flowers for bouquets and deadheading will keep your plants flowering a bit longer, but you'll sacrifice the fascinating seed pods. Love-in-a-Mist easily self-sows, so you can thin the seedlings to prevent overcrowding. Harvest for bouquets when flower buds have fully colored or pods have begun to develop.
Potting and Repotting Love-in-a-Mist
If growing Love-in-a-Mist in a pot, start it indoors four to six weeks before you're ready to put the plant outside. However, it doesn't transplant well because of its long taproot, so avoid repotting whenever possible.
Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena. University of Wisconsin Horticulture Extension.