Satin flowers always attract attention in the garden or vase

Godetia, Satin Flower Picture courtesy Nu-leaf NurseryGodetia, Satin Flower Picture courtesy Nu-leaf NurserySatin flowers are so easy to sow directly into garden beds they are recommended for beginner gardeners and children’s gardens. Read more below on sowing and caring for these beauties.  

Clarkia amoena is a flowering plant native to western North America where it can be found growing wild in coastal hills and mountains, from British Columbia, Canada, south to the San Francisco Bay Area, California. In northern California they grow in various settings, including coastal prairie, northern coastal scrub, openings in evergreen forests or oak woodlands, and grasslands. In 1895, Will Green, the surveyor-general of California, reported having seen Clarkia flowers of different hues covering the plains.

In Pleasanton, California, a late prehistoric cremation site was discovered containing tens of thousands of charred Clarkia seeds, placed there by Native Americans as offerings, along with remnants of other plants. The seeds are edible, and although they are very small, 20 to 30 pounds of the seeds could be gathered in one day for use as food.  They could be eaten dried, or cooked into a form resembling oat-meal, or blended with water and other ingredients to make a pinole-like beverage.

Godetia Picture courtesy Nu-leaf NurseryGodetia Picture courtesy Nu-leaf NurseryClarkia amoena is an annual plant growing to 1m in height, with slender, linear leaves, and four broad petals which can be pink to pale purple. The fruit is a dry capsule, which splits open when mature to release the numerous seeds.

Several members of the genus are still referred to by the common name "godetia", as they were formerly classified in a genus called Godetia. However, Godetia is no longer recognised since its members have been absorbed into the genus Clarkia. Over 40 species are currently classified under Clarkia, and some are very rare. Almost all are native to western North America, especially California, though one species (Clarkia tenella) is native to South America.

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a Voyage of Discovery across the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  While the primary purpose of the trip was largely political and strategic, the men also wanted to learn more about the culture and practices of the Native Americans living there, and also documented the plants and animals they found.                                   

One of the specimens Clark brought back was a unique and beautiful flower, which subsequently was named “Clarkia” in his honour.  Its common name is “Farewell-to-Spring” because in its native habitat it flowers just around the time spring is about to segue into summer. Another one of its common names is “Satin Flower” in reference to the satiny, cup-shaped blooms of this popular cool season annual. 

Today satin flowers are available in beautiful pastel shades of rose to pink, peach, deep magenta, lavender and white, darkening at the base of the petals, or shading to white or red, and some cultivars are selected for their highly dissected petals, giving them a semi-double appearance. 

Modern satin flowers vary in height from 30 to 90cm tall, and because these plants naturally have a lax growth habit and can flop over easily, plant breeders have developed strains which are more compact and free flowering, and for the garden it is often best to select a dwarf variety which does not require staking. Satin flowers will flower in late spring and early to mid-summer, depending on when they are sown.

Satin flowers are not as readily available in South Africa as they used to be, but at the time of writing this article, seeds can be bought online at Seeds for Africa as well as other online seed suppliers; and certain growers like Nu-leaf Nursery still sell seedling trays of this beautiful annual. Flower fashions, like all other fashion trends, come and go, but certain flowers like satin flowers will always be available because they have stood the test of time and remain in demand by gardeners around the world.

Clarkia amoena nana ‘Satin’ is a uniform, compact plant that flowers early, producing masses of large flowers in a mixture of lovely pastel shades. It thrives in sun to semi-shade, and will grow 30cm tall and 20cm wide, making it perfect for patio and balcony pots, or as a bedding plant in the garden.

Clarkia ‘Out of this world’ is another compact variety with a mixture of lovely colours, and which grows 30cm tall and 20cm wide, making it great for borders, bedding, cottage gardens and containers

Uses:

Clarkia amoena seeds were parched and then pounded into a dry seed meal and eaten by the Sierra Miwok, who lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.

In the Garden & Home:

Clarkia is so easy to grow if sow directly into garden beds it is recommended for a child’s garden and beginner gardeners.

The Latin name amoena means beautiful or pleasing, and this plant certainly does make a beautiful addition to many types of gardens, and can be added to beds, borders, containers, dry banks, cottage gardens, rock gardens and wildflower meadows.  The new dwarf strains grow extremely well in pots, and the flowers attract bees and butterflies.

Satin flowers make excellent, long-lasting bouquets, and for long lasting fresh flowers, cut the stems long and place them in deep water immediately.

Godetia PinkGodetia PinkCultivation/Propagation:

Satin Flowers are easy to-grow in full sun to semi-shade. They are good coastal plants but do not do well under hot and humid conditions, so in these regions the seeds are sown in early autumn. They do well in the winter rainfall regions of the country, and inland they are hardy to frost, but need regular watering in winter.

Seeds are best sown directly into garden beds in autumn or spring when the soil temperatures are between 16 and 18°C. They can also be sown in seedling trays, but plants will generally be sturdier if direct-seeded. Cover the seeds lightly with about 2mm of soil and rake the bed lightly. Seeds will take 7 to 15 days to germinate and will bloom about 12 to 18 weeks after sowing.

Although satin flowers thrive in slightly acidic, sandy soils, they tolerate both sandy and clay soils, as well as saline and sodic soils with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0. It is essential that the soil drains well and is not too fertile, as on excessively nutritious soils the plants will produce too much foliage at the expense of the flowers. Also, do not over feed your plants. Satin flowers are drought tolerant, but ensure that you water them regularly in dry regions. These plants like a bit of crowding and bloom best when planted closely together.

Satin flowers need little maintenance once they are established, but picking them for the vase and clipping out the dead flowers regularly will keep them looking good and blooming for longer. In a suitable location the plants will readily self-seed in the garden.

If you wish to save seed, allow the plant to produce its narrow pods that mature to a dark brown. Collect the ripe pods and spread them out away from direct sunlight to dry completely before splitting them open to remove the brown seeds. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place.

Problems, Pests & Diseases

Satin flowers are generally pest and disease free but watch out for root rot if conditions are very wet and your soil does not have perfect drainage.

The plants are susceptible to powdery mildew, verticillium wilt, stem rot and leaf spot, especially in very humid climates.

In early summer, watch out for common garden insects like aphids, mites and Japanese beetles.

Warning:

Although Clarkia amoena is listed as non-toxic it is always best to discourage children and pets from chewing on plants.