Add structure, beauty and a boost for pollinators with statuesque Verbascum.
Verbascum is no shrinking violet. In summer, stately spikes of flowers shoot out of borders like firecrackers, adding pops of colour that lift the eye and provide a pleasing, though short-lived focal point in the garden.
For added drama, this genus of mostly summer flowering biennials come in a range of colours from the bright lemon yellow of Verbascum Olympicum to the rich coral pink of V. Firedance (a newer cultivar with more staying power). Purples, pinks and regal white cultivars also exist.
The flowers might be short-lived, but they don’t waste any time stealing the show when they arrive.
Verbascum is versatile. It will complete your cottage garden look but doesn't look out of place in a more contemporary gravel garden either. They look excellent as part of a naturalistic planting scheme, where they can self-seed about with carefree abandon.
Verbascum is a good choice for the climate conscious gardener. Their long taproots are adept at searching out water in drought conditions - making them a hardworking addition to any dry garden. Pair with ornamental Grasses, Sage and sun-worshipping Daylilies for a dazzling, drought-tolerant display.
Verbascum thrives on poor, dry soil; thus, garden designers have found it to be a good choice on developed land, where the soil is chalky or sandy with a thin top layer and little competition from other plants. Take a leaf out of designer Sarah Morgan's book and swap out decking for a scree-style planting scheme with Verbascum taking the lead.
Verbascum Thapsus is a particularly prolific hitchhiker, globetrotting around the world from its original base in Europe. Here in the UK, you might catch the distinctive bottle brush spires by roadside verges, hedgebanks, and alongside arable field margins that haven't been overly managed.
But Verbascum flowers aren’t just a hit with gardeners; their pollen-rich blooms attract pollinators too. Generally, the species will attract bees hoverflies, moths and other beneficial insects, while Verbascum Thapsus is a popular food source for Honeybees, Bumblebees and Solitary bees.
How to grow Verbascum
Although they will tolerate shade, Verbascum much prefers an all-eyes-on-them open, sunny site. One where you enjoy those spires of flowers from all angles, and it can't be outcompeted for nutrients or light. Verbascum is a genus that likes to show off but stresses out in crowded situations (like most of us these days!). Plant in moist, well-drained alkaline soil. Avoid acid soil and overly wet conditions if you want to stay on their good side. Verbascum can withstand frost.
You can propagate Verbascum by seed (unless it’s a perennial hybrid, in this case, root cuttings are your only option) in spring or summer or take root cuttings in late September onwards. Or you could save yourself the bother and choose a self-seeding variety instead. Remember to cut the flowers back at the end of the season if you want to avoid a bed of unwanted seedlings.
Common problems with Verbascum
Taller varieties may need staking in spring to avoid them toppling over in strong winds!
The mullein moth caterpillar will happily munch through the leaves. We suggest swapping chemical sprays for sacrificial Mulleins and relocating the caterpillars by hand. Find out more about how to deal with the Mullein Moth Caterpillar here:
Weevils have been known to burrow into the flower buds; these can also be removed by hand.
Did you know?
- The name stems from the Latin for ‘bearded’ and refers not to the Merlin's-beard shaped flower stalk but the hairy stamen filaments found on some varieties.
- Apparently, one plant can produce a whopping 250,000 seeds! The seeds will happily sprout on the newly disturbed ground after many years of dormancy.
- Verbascum leaves have their very own beauticians: the wool-carder bee strip the plant's leaf hair to line its nest. Keep an eye out for the females carrying tiny balls of plant fibre back to their nest.
- In traditional European herbalist circles, the dried leaves were smoked and, ironically, used to cure respiratory complaints such as bronchitis and asthma.
- The Romans were particularly fond of dipping the seedheads into tallow and using them as a torch. These days the seedheads make quite a nice architectural feature in winter.
- Fancy making your own natural dye? The leaves can produce muted yellow or olive green shades.
- As unearthed by A Wandering Botanist, Common Mullein was used by country folk in medieval England to find out if their lover had commitment issues. "They bent the plant toward the lover's house. If it resumed a vertical position, all was well, but if the mullein died, their love was untrue."
- Verbascum is one plant highlighted by Plant Heritage as not having a national plant collection. Plant collections are vital in helping conserve a species. Perhaps you could be the one to start one?
Browse Verbascum varieties here:
Shop plant genera featured in the Hardy's Festival Show Garden below:
Festival Garden Plants
John Cullen GardensSalvia microphylla 'Hot Lips'
John Cullen GardensSalvia greggii 'Clotted Cream'
Bali-Hai NurseryHosta 'The Fonz' - Bare Root Plant - Hardy
My Wish TreePeony Tree (Paeoniaceae)
thejsheppardSweet Pea 'Spencer Waved' Mix
HolistichoundaoaAngelica Seeds for planting (Angelica archangelica) - suitable for animal & wildlife gardens
How does your garden grow? Let us know what's flourishing in your patch using the hashtag #ShowUsYourBlooms
This article is part of The Candide Festival of Flowers, an online floral ‘take over’, aiming to unite the nation in a joyful celebration of gardens, plants, pollinators and people! Read more from the series here.