The botanical name for this plant is Matthiola incana. It was named after Dr Matthiole, a personal doctor to Emperor Maxmillian of Austria who was renowned for his botanical as well as his medical knowledge.
Incana is Latin for grey and refers to the greyish leaves. In Elizabethan times, stocks were known as Gillyflowers and this name is still sometimes used.
Stocks are flowers that thrive in a cool climate. The tall, strong stems bear clusters of sweet-smelling, double or single flowers that form a spike. They vary in height from the dwarf Cinderella series to bushy plants of up to 60 cm (2 ft) in height. The flowers come in a number of different colours – pink, red, yellow, lilac and purple – but the most common is white.
Stocks originated in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands but thrive in the UK and can even withstand a light frost. They like well-drained soil in cool, damp and even shady conditions and are ideal for the British climate.
Annual varieties known as ‘ten-week stocks’ are sown in the spring but their hardier cousins, Brompton Stocks, which were originally cultivated on the site of the South Kensington museums – can be sown in June or July and flower the following spring.
A third variety, the East Lothian stock from southern Scotland, gives a mass of blooms in late summer and autumn but can also be treated as perennials to flower the next year.
Matthiola incana is a species of the genus Matthiola, which contains approximately 54 other species.
Stocks can reward you with a vase life of up to four weeks. However, you need to be careful to regularly change the water, remove any foliage below the water line to prevent slime growing, add flower food and recut the stems,
Did You Know?
Stocks have been admired since the Elizabethan era and were extremely popular in Victorian cottage gardens.