Introduction to The British Gardener's website

Damn Good Plants - Centranthus ruber, Jupiter's Beard

I love those moments when someone raves about a plant that you hadn't previously heard of. Maybe its just new to you or one you've come across in the past but forgotten about.  But, when I first heard the name 'Jupiter's Beard', it didn't conjure up any illusions of grandeur.  Fortunately, Jupiters Beard, or Centranthus ruber also goes by some other more inspiring names like Red Valerian, Scarlet Lightning, or Keys of Heaven.  I think you'd agree, the latter have a slightly more thrilling edge to their names than some an old stinky beard! - Captain Mish

White and Pink forms - Francis Foley
For whatever reason, Centranthus isn't a perennial plant that makes it on too many peoples top ten list.  I suspect the reason is similar to mine, where it lurks in obscurity among other better known plants.   However, this Mediterranean plant is favorite in Europe, embraced as a staple in grand estate gardens to cottage styled gardens.  It's non-stop bloom-fest starts in June as rich carmine-red to pink flowers erupt on 2-3 ft stalks, continuing freely until late summer. There are also white forms available for those looking for a more subtle color to work with. Couple this trait with fragrance and you begin to realize what you've been missing out on.  But for me, the fact that it lures in butterflies who swarm to its nectar rich blooms, made it an easy choice for my garden.

Flowers aside, the foliage has substance, providing a contrasting grey-green bushy backdrop to accompany the bloom.  The leaves are said to flavorful when eaten in a salad, but unless it gives you untold energy or makes hair grow back on head ( a wish of mine! ), I don't understand why you would eat it in the first place.  Compared with other more fussy perennial cousins, Centranthus will flourish without any extra attention.  Even when it comes to pests and diseases, nothing noticeable is known to afflict it, not even deer!  So easy going is its habit, it excels in most soil types and doesn't miss a beat when drought conditions stress both plant and gardener alike. - henrye72
To get the best from this perennial, site it in full sun and keep the soil pH a little high by adding some lime.  It often naturalizes itself along old walls and close to the foundations of a house where the leaching of lime from concrete keeps the soil sweet.  Don't feel tempted to overly enrich the soil or use a heavy hand with fertilizer.  This is a plant prefers the 'treat it mean, keep it keen' approach.  Flowering may slow to a stop in the heat of summer. If so, pruning it halfway back to stimulate another round of blooms to appear.

Centranthus is known to have a habit of popping up around the garden.  The seeds have little parachutes similar to the seeds of a dandelion, that will catch the wind and carry them to new areas to colonizes.  To reduce this propensity, a bi-weekly deadheading will not only cut back on its colonization but encourage more flowers to appear.

Why more hasn't been done to promote this plant to new homeowners looking for high impact plants with low impact needs is a mystery to me.  It's a perfect winning plant for someone new to gardening, that will build their confidence as it grows from strength to strength. So now when you're asked what your top ten list of perennials would be, you might consider including this easy going perennial. - Mollivan Jon