With tiny flowers in pastel shades, these long-flowering plants are irresistible to butterflies.
Verbenas are best known as showy and easy-care bedding plants that are popular in pots and baskets. However, there are some less well-known hardy types that will bring your garden alive with colour and butterflies in summer and right into autumn. Most of the 200 verbena species are native to South America but a few come from Europe including the common vervain (V. officinalis). They are slightly shrubby or woody-based herbaceous plants with pairs of leaves along the stem and clusters of tubular, five-petalled flowers. Although the blooms are not usually very large, they are produced in compressed clusters so they can be quite showy. The bedding types are suitable for the front of the border but the hardier types are generally upright plants that add interest to the garden because their habit contrasts with other plants. The stiff stems are generally self-supporting and they can vary from about 45cm high in Verbena rigida to more than 150cm in the now very popular cottage garden plant V. bonariensis.
KEEP THEM HAPPY: Some verbenas are hardy in light and well-drained soil but they are so easily raised from seed, and will flower the first year, that they can be treated as annuals. In addition to good drainage, they also prefer full sun. Most are best planted in clumps of at least five. Sow the seeds in February or March, keep the seedlings free from frost and then plant out in May or June. They should be deadheaded after flowering and cut down in spring, when you can check if they have survived the cold. Some will self seed if they are happy. Although the bedding types can be attacked by mildew, this is rarely a problem with the other kinds and the foliage is so fine that you probably won’t notice it if it does strike.
FACT: Vervain has many traditional, herbal uses and was, according to legend, used to staunch the wounds of Jesus on the cross. It was a sacred herb to ancient Egyptians, the people of northern Europe and Iran.