Stunning blooms for your summer garden

Which? Gardening have tested almost 40 types of scabious flowers, and can now reveal their best-buy varieties that will add a wonderful array of colour to your summer garden
Scabious is often called the pincushion flower and it’s easy to see why; the flower heads are made up of many tiny blooms that look as though they have pins sticking out of them.

Most of us are familiar with the blue and violet shades of scabious, but when Which? Gardening drew up the trial list they found a wonderful array of colours – garnet, deep maroon, white, all shades of pink, apricot-yellow and indigo – that can fit into any colour scheme in a border.

They’re often grown to attract bees and butterflies, or to bring indoors to display in a vase, and some varieties have beautiful seedheads. Most scabious plants are blousy rather than tidy, so they fit into cottage-garden plantings better than formal areas.

The flowers can be complemented by planting them with other plants of a similar shade. The white and pink types are a superb companion for white Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ and sedums in a late-summer border, which beneficial insects will love. Or team yellow-apricot shades with Digitalis purpurea ‘Sutton’s Apricot’ to create a colour-themed border that will provide you with a long season of interest.

Which? Gardening tested almost 40 different types of scabious and found that a lot of them flopped around without support, but they all had stunning blooms. However, the ones picked as Best Buys all supported themselves well - they were all in full flower for at least eight weeks. They did not flop over too much and would make a great addition to any garden.

Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Ace of spades'
The black buds of the 'Ace of spades' variety open into velvety purple-red flowers


1. Scabiosa caucasica ‘Fama’
With huge (10cm) flowers varying from deep indigo to pale blue-violet, ‘Fama’ was a favourite perennial among our testers. The plants stood straighter than most in our trial.
Height x spread: 95 x 43cm
Weeks in flower: 10
Where to buy seeds: Nicky’s Nursery (01843 600972;; Moles Seeds (01206 213213;; Dobies (0844 701 7625;

2. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Ace of Spades’
Black buds opened into velvety purple-red flowers that were darker than ‘Black Cat’ (see below). Blue-green at the start of summer, the leaves gradually turned bright green, complementing the blooms.
Height x spread: 80 x 53cm
Weeks in flower: 12
Where to buy seeds: Thompson & Morgan (0844 248 5383;

3. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Dwarf Mixed Colours’
The short stocky plants of ‘Dwarf Mixed Colours’ stayed upright better than most varieties, filling their plot in an orderly way. The pastel pink-mauve to white blooms toned together tastefully.
Height x spread: 55 x 44cm
Weeks in flower: 11
Where to buy seeds: Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137;

Scabiosa atropurpurea 'black cat'
The flowers of 'Black Cat' have a lovely dark-maroon colour and velvety texture
4. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Black Cat’
There was a lovely velvety texture to the deep, dark-maroon flowers of ‘Black Cat’. The pretty mauve-coloured styles stood out from the flowers and when pollen was released, it looked like sugar icing.
Height x spread: 47 x 64cm
Weeks in flower: 12
Where to buy seeds: Sarah Raven (0845 092 0283;

5. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Oxford Blue’
‘Oxford Blue’ really stood out from the other varieties due to the big (7.5cm) flowers that started off flat and gradually changed into a tall dome. They were teaming with bees and hoverflies throughout the summer.
Height x spread: 78 x 87cm
Weeks in flower: 10
Where to buy seeds: Thompson & Morgan (0844 248 5383;

6. Scabiosa ‘Summer Berries’
A range of lovely mid pinks, maroon and crimson made ‘Summer Berries’ one of the best colour mixes in our trial. The shades of the petals meant that, in contrast to many other varieties, any ageing flowers did not become obvious as they started to turn brown.
Height x spread: 69 x 63cm
Weeks in flower: 12
Where to buy seeds: Suttons (0844 922 0606;

Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Beaujolais Bonnets'
The pretty blooms of 'Beaujolais Bonnets' have white-petal edges which age gracefully
7. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’
‘Beaujolais Bonnets’ stayed fully upright throughout the trial, making a uniform plot of stocky plants. The pretty pink blooms had white petal edges and aged gracefully without the brown flowers being obvious. This variety is a perennial, so you can enjoy it year after year.
Height x in flower: 75 x 60cm
Weeks in flower: eight
Where to buy seeds: Thompson & Morgan (0844 248 5383;

8. Scabiosa stellata ‘Ping Pong’
This stocky, glaucous-leaved variety produced gorgeous spherical, papery seedheads. The spheres were made of delicate cups, each containing a tiny, brown, five-pointed star. If you want to use them as cut flowers inside, harvest sprigs quickly, as any that have been exposed to the elements for a few weeks will disintegrate.
Height x spread: 52 x 54cm
Weeks in flower: nine
Where to buy seeds: Moles Seeds (01206 213213;

9. Scabiosa ‘Pin Cushion Mix’
The gently mounding blooms had spiky, prominent styles, making the name very apt for this mixture. ‘Pin Cushion Mix’ was covered in cream, pink, violet, grape and maroon flowers and filled its plot beautifully with voluminous plants.
Height x spread: 70 x 65cm
Weeks in flower: 13
Where to buy seeds: Suttons (0844 922 0606;

10. Scabiosa ‘Fire King’
‘Fire King’ had green buds that turned pink and finally became claret blooms; a unique colour in our trial. The white styles looked a bit like ashes floating out of a fire and the colour combination was enhanced by bright-green leaves.
Height x spread: 75 x 60cm
Weeks in flower: 13
Where to buy seeds: DT Brown (0845 371 0532;; Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137;

Scabiosa Japonica 'Ritz Blue'
'Ritz Blue' was the shortest variety in the trial, but also the neatest
11. Scabiosa japonica ‘Ritz Blue’
These were the shortest plants in our trial and, as a result, they were also the neatest. You could use them in a formal bedding scheme without any fear of flopping. Bees and hoverflies loved them, too.
Height x spread: 25 x 30cm
Weeks in flower: 12
Where to buy seeds: Suttons (0844 922 0606;

12. Scabiosa atropurpurea ‘Snow maiden’
Pure milk-white petals and styles marked this annual out, flowering for the whole of August.
Height x spread: 60 x 54cm
Weeks in flower: 11
Where to buy seeds: Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137;, Plants of Distinction (01449 721720;

13. Scabiosa ‘Fata Morgana’
The lime-green buds turned to pale salmon before opening into soft-yellow blooms with apricot edges. The petals went brown with age, so this one needs deadheading.
Height x spread: 86 x 59cm
Weeks in flower: 11
Where to buy seeds: Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137;

Scabiosa caucasica 'Perfecta Alba'
The milk-white flowers of 'Perfecta Alba' are popular with bees
14. Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta Alba’
This perennial variety stayed more upright than most of the other plants in our trial, despite its height. The milk-white flowers with ragged-edged petals were popular with bees.
Height x spread: 110 x 54cm
Weeks in flower: 10
Where to buy seeds: Chiltern Seeds (01229 581137;

How to grow scabious from seed

Scabious do not always germinate easily, so sow plenty of seed to get enough plants. Sow 3mm deep in seed compost (one of our Best Buys is B&Q Multipurpose Compost). Check the packet for preferred temperatures, some are fussy. We germinated ours in a heated propagator at 20 degrees celsius.

Prick out seedlings into individual pots or modules and grow on in the greenhouse. Water carefully; don’t leave them soaking or dry for too long. In May, start hardening them off by leaving them outside in a sheltered spot. Plant out after all risk of frost has passed.

To try your first three issues of Which? and Which? Gardening for just £3, call 0800 389 8855 and quote VEG222F

All pictures courtesy of Which? Gardening

Follow us on Twitter @HomesProperty and Facebook