This brilliant summer bedding plant has fan-shaped flowers that give it an elegant look, says Miranda Kimberley.

S. 'Fandancer' - image: Floramedia
S. 'Fandancer' - image: Floramedia

Scaevola may not be a household name, yet, but it deserves to be because it is a brilliant summer bedding plant that spills over hanging baskets and containers. Its fan-shaped flowers, created by having five petals on one side, give it an elegant look.

Being an Australian native, it is a drought-tolerant plant, though it will certainly thrive with a consistent watering regime during the summer and occasional feeding.

Although not well known, it is actually quite a large genus of 130 species. The tropical or semi-tropical plants are herbaceous or shrubby in habit. Their centre of diversity is in Australia and Polynesia.

There are a few shrubby Scaevola in cultivation, such as S. taccada, a highly successful plant that spreads along the coastlines of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is considered an invasive species in Florida and the Caribbean. But only S. aemula is really known in cultivation in the UK. It is this species from which all the bedding varieties come.

S. aemula is a tender perennial, so grown as an annual here. It has slightly serrate, spoon-shaped leaves and lovely vivid blue flowers that really make it stand out. Once established they romp away, spreading up to 90cm across.

Plenty of good varieties have been bred from this species, mostly in shades of blue and white, also pink and some striped. The widely grown Print series, blue and white, was bred in King’s Park & Botanic Garden in Western Australia.

S. aemula ‘Blue Wonder’ is also widely praised, while S. aemula ‘Zig Zag’ is singled out for its attractively striped petals.

Hailing from Australia, S. aemula is used to warm, sunny conditions, although it will also tolerate some shade. It can cope with periods of drought and has almost no insect or disease problems. The plant is self-cleaning, so you do not have to remove the dead flowers to keep it in production.

Plant them in window boxes, hanging baskets and tall containers, in which the plants’ trailing form will be shown off to great effect. Occasional feeding will enhance the floral display.

Scaevola are excellent in combination with other plants. I saw a beautiful display in the Earl’s Garden at Arundel Castle last year — mixed blue and white Scaevola alongside dark-blue Lobelia among large pots of Agapanthus. It was a regal display and the way the Scaevola spilled over the edges of the pots and were reflected in the water below made me want to grow them myself this year, which I then did.

S. 'Blue Print' - image: Floramedia

What the specialists say
Emma Rogers, PR manager, Westland Horticulture

"Scaevola is a great annual flower for growing in poor soils — ideal for new-builds with south-facing gardens. New-builds tend to have rubble and stones as part of the garden soil, which is no problem for Scaevola. They make great ground cover for an exposed sunny patch of the garden as they are naturally very drought-tolerant.

"Their common name is the fairy fan flower, because of their very attractive fan-shaped flowers. The varieties that stand out for me include: S. ‘Blue Wonder’, a lovely annual creeper; S. ‘Zig Zag’, with its pinstripe flowers; and S. taccada, a lovely evergreen shrub.

"Give Scaevola an exposed, open position in full sun. They hate cool, wet weather so avoid planting them in north-facing sites in gardens. Blue Scaevola can be used effectively to create a patriotic look with red and white annuals."

S. aemula - image: Floramedia

In practice
Hannah Loader, office administrator, Coolings Nurseries, Kent

"Scaevola is a good bedding plant and hanging basket plant. It sells well and has a good shelf life. We
sell S. Blue Print but our labels just call it ‘Blue’ for ease of selling. We just rotate the stock frequently and find they move quickly before they get leggy.

"We display them with our other basket plants and find people know them well enough, although we do have them planted in mixed hanging baskets for a ‘living label’ effect."

S. 'Zig Zag' - image: Floramedia

Species and varieties

S. aemula, also known as the fairy fan flower, is an evergreen perennial usually grown as an annual in the UK because it is tender here. It has spoon-shaped leaves and fan-shaped bluish flowers. Heat-
and drought-tolerant. Height and spread: 30-90cm.
S. aemula ‘Blue Wonder’ (PBR) is a nice variety of this tender perennial that spreads well to fill pots and border edges. Height: 15cm. Spread: up to 150cm.
S. aemula ‘White Wonder’ has pretty white flowers and trailing foliage — perfect for a sunny spot in a pot or hanging basket. Flowers from June to October. Height: 30cm.
S. aemula ‘Zig Zag’ (PBR) has highly attractive white flowers with vivid purple stripes and a compact habit. Height: 20-30cm.

S. Blue Print is a compact variety with a well-branched, mounding habit. It produces masses of very attractive blue flowers from June to September — all summer — and does well in full sun or part shade. Height: 20-25cm. Spread: 45cm.

S. ‘Fandancer’ is a lovely purple-flowered variety with an upright habit that flowers earlier than others and is more compact. Great in baskets and containers, in combination with other plants.

S. ‘Pink Dream’ is a variety with a well-branched, trailing habit. The Dream series has medium vigour, producing plenty of flowers. Height: 30cm. Spread: 1m.

S. ‘Saphira’ (PBR) has sapphire-blue, fan-shaped flowers on glossy green, semi-trailing foliage. Likes full sun or partial shade. Height: 30cm. Spread: 40cm.

S. ‘Topaz Pink’ has a bright-pink flower that is good in hanging baskets and containers.

Thank you to Floramedia, which supplied the images for this article from its photo library

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