The Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is worth growing just for its delightful aroma. It also offers striking, sturdy flowers and is as simple an herbaceous plant as one could wish for.
Its large number of familiar names testifies to centuries of cultivation in gardens and the high esteem in which it is held. Mother-of-the-evening, vesper flower, queen’s gilliflower, damask violet: many of these names allude to the plant’s sweet aroma, comparable to a mixture of violets and carnations, and the time of day in which the fragrance is released.
The genus Hesperis comprises about 60 biennial or perennial herbaceous plants from Central Asia and the Mediterranean.
Dame’s Rocket is an upright, branching plant that can grow up to 18 inches wide and 4 feet tall. Its roots are “threddie and slender“, and its alternately hairy and pointed leaves are “somewhat clipped at the edges“; the lower ones have short stems and can grow up to 10 cm long, while the upper ones are smaller and sessile.
It has loose terminal clusters of 4-petalled white, pink, or lavender flowers bloom in early summer and late spring. At first glance, the female Rocket can be mistaken for the phlox, but the phlox flowers have five petals.