English Daisies (Bellis perennis)
Classic English Daisies,
courtesy of Garden Guides
The original English daisy Bellis perennis began as a small sized, low growing plant whose small white flowers spangled the green turf of medieval paintings and tapestries hundreds of years old. It's a native European daisy species (Aster family) with bright white or lightly pink single rays surrounding a yellow center. Other names include Common Daisy or Lawn Daisy. It began as a native to western, central and northern Europe and is now naturalized in much of America. Because of short stature it's able to co-exist and bloom in the lawn with no problem.
English daisies have small rounded or spoon-shaped evergreen leaves approximately an inch long. The flowerheads of the original species are less than an inch in diameter, with white ray or red tipped petals and yellow disks, growing from leafless stems about one to four inches in height.
The English daisy has been known as a folk remedy for hundreds of years, and used to treat such varied ailments as arthritis, diarrhea, bronchitis and kidney problems. According to legend, Henry VIII ate English daisies to help with stomach problems. The name 'daisy' comes from old Anglo-Saxon "daes eage" which means "day's eye" because of the bright golden middle and because the flowers close in the evening. They're the daisies children use when pulling off petals one at a time "he loves me, he loves me not", and the plant children's daisy chains are made from.
English daisies, double forms,
courtesy of Garden Guides
But times have changed, and so have English daisies. The modern varieties are not your great-great-great-great-grandfather's daisies! They've grown far larger and more double than the small starlike flowers sprinkled over English lawns from castles to cottages. Several named varieties have been selected with much larger flowerheads up to 2 inches in diameter in colors ranging from white through pink, rose and almost red, on 3 to 5 inch stems. In some cases they have become so double the bright yellow center is almost hidden.
Use these plants in conjunction with spring flowering bulbs, alyssum, pansies and violas, or clumping violets. Although in more temperate climates the English daisy will persist for several years, and bloom throughout the flowering season, in warmer areas they will grow steadily through the cooler fall, winter and spring months before succumbing to heat by June. They will thrive in either full sun or part shade, in average to soil enriched with compost.
For your garden, purchase larger, started plants ready to bloom or begin your own from seed.
Sowing: Seeds may be sown in pans or pots in the early fall for plants large enough to set out as cooler days begin, or they could be sown directly in place outdoors and lightly covered with soil. Firm the soil after planting. The seeds will emerge under warmer conditions within a week or so, or later if planted in the cooler soil outdoors. Remember to keep the soil fairly moist at this time. Thin young plants when they are several inches in height and transplant them to permanent places in the garden at spacings about 6 to 8 inches apart. Fertilize regularly when plants are established and keep old blooms trimmed off to encourage more flowers.