Stock: A Cottage Garden Staple


Stock, or Matthiola incana, is a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants that includes cabbages. Originating in the wild in England, it is a favorite of cottage gardeners, prized for its dense clusters of fragrant blossoms.

Its Latin name is said to commemorate a 16th-century herbalist, Peter Matthioli (or perhaps Mattioli), personal physician to King Ferdinand I of Austria. Aa 1905 article titled “Memorial Plant Names,” in a Victorian-era British periodical called The Leisure Hour, refers to this likely origin.

A Multifaceted Plant

Also called gillyflower, tenweeks, or hoary, Brompton, or vintage stock, today’s colorful varieties are cultivars of the original M. incana wildflower.

Double Blossom White M. Incana |

This plant is known for its elongated racemes, or clusters, of single or double fragrant blossoms that rise on sturdy stems from lush grayish-green foliage.

There are other Matthiola varieties, including the night-scented M. longipetala. Visually, this variety pales in comparison, with its sparse, narrow petaled blossoms. However, it makes up for its shortcomings by emitting a heady scent in the evening.

M. incana is referred to as a half-hardy annual, biennial, and perennial.

How can this be?

This is a cool weather plant that blooms from early spring into summer. It needs temperatures below 60°F to set buds, otherwise you don’t get blossoms.

Want to grow beautiful M. incana flowers in your cottage garden? We'll show you how:


In cool regions, it grows as an annual that may withstand a frost or two, hence the term “half-hardy.” Sow seeds in early spring in these locations.

In warmer areas, M. incana is a perennial that may live for a few years, coming back with woodier stems each spring. Here, it blooms until summer heat becomes oppressive. It’s best to plant in the early fall.

The biennial characteristic refers to its tendency to bloom and set seed in the second year, in settings where it grows as a perennial.

Whatever its behavior, M. incana is the perfect choice for beds, borders, and container gardening. Sowed en masse, its soft blossoms blur like those in a watercolor painting, for a charming cottage feel.

There are numerous cultivars of the original M. incana, with heights ranging from an 8-inch dwarf variety, to taller Column and Imperial hybrids that exceed two feet.

To experiment with growing stock in various plant hardiness zones, consider starting seeds indoors, using cold frames or greenhouses, and providing shade from intense afternoon heat.

Matthiola incana Plant Facts

  • Average moisture, well-drained soil
  • Cool weather to set buds
  • Blooms early spring to summer
  • Fragrant
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Grow from seed or plants
  • Introduced
  • Numerous cultivars
  • One to three feet in height
  • Perennial in zones 7 to 10
  • Annual in colder regions
  • Colors include purple, pink, red, white, and yellow

Where to Buy

True Leaf Market offers a Stock Midget Mix. Each package contains 1000 seeds for flowers that range in color from purple to white.Stock Midget Mix |

Midget Mix Stock

This is a dwarf variety that reaches 8 to 12 inches in height. Expect approximately 60 percent of the seed to produce double-petaled blossoms.

Fragrant and Romantic

When it’s time to plan your next garden, be sure to include stock for cutting and bringing indoors.

Double Purple M. Incana |

I love to slip out early in the morning, when the dew still glistens, to collect an armful for a breakfast table centerpiece. Heliotrope and phlox are two of my other cottage garden favorites.

Did you know that you can keep vase arrangements fresh longer with two easy tips?

1. Remove leaves from the bottom portion of stems that will be under water.

2. Refresh vases daily by snipping the bottoms of all stems and changing the water.

You’re going to love having a ready supply of lush-blossomed cutting flowers!

Does stock grow well where you live? Tell us about your favorite varieties in the comments section below.

Product photo via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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