The late, great British gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd is in part responsible for my deep love of South American vervain (Verbena bonariensis). It was Lloyd’s book Colour for Adventurous Gardeners (Firefly, 2001) that introduced me to this plant, also commonly called tall verbena. Lloyd had it generously planted throughout the gardens at his home, Great Dixter, and his books, always laden with glorious photographs, featured many photos and references to the plant. I loved it on sight, and wanted to see it for real.
My first sighting of tall verbena came in the fall of 2006, when I travelled parts of the VIA Garden route from Halifax to Windsor, Ont. Many of the gardens I visited included this late-blooming annual or short-season perennial (hardy to Zone 7) in their late-season displays. In the years since then, I’ve been gratified to find V. bonariensis in more and more public and private gardens, and to find seed and transplants available more readily, too. Since it can regularly reach six feet (1.8 m), and utterly covers itself in slender, wiry stems bearing clusters of petite mauve flowers, it makes a marvelous statement in any planting, and offers a great burst of colour during the winding down of the blooming year.
One spring, I bought two six-packs of V. bonariensis seedlings and planted them as soon as the risk of frost was past. I did this rather than start from seed because I’m so busy in spring. Starting seed indoors tends to be an exercise in horticultural disasters, but that’s a story for another day. Plus, I wanted the flowers to come as early as possible. They obligingly started blooming in early July, and as of mid-October, were still going strong.
To my great delight, my new garden is also the recipient of seedlings from last year’s plants, which started blooming a few weeks later than did the transplants, but as a result I have clouds of mauve flowers all throughout my gardens. They provide a gorgeous contrast to the various tall asters, fall monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii [Arendsii Group] ‘Arendsii’), Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) and ‘Sungold’ buddleia that are still performing like crazy in my Wolfville, N.S., garden.
Plant tall verbena in full sun for the best growth. Too much shade will make the plants a bit spindly and won’t give you as much bloom. If you have good winter drainage, you may get volunteer seedlings the following year. For those valiant gardeners plagued by Bambi and Thumper, tall verbena is deer and rabbit resistant, and also drought tolerant once established.
Pollinators love tall verbena, from species of bees and pollinating flies (bee mimics), to butterflies, including the cherished monarch. It makes a great cut flower as well, and, of course, cutting stems prompts plants to send out even more flowers.
According to other gardeners, tall verbena can be dried, although I have not yet tried doing that, mostly because my cats want to eat any dried flowers they find!
Valerie Curgenven says
I love Verbena Bonariensis and have lusted over finding plants for many years to no avail. I realize it will be an annual here in Ontario, they grow prolifically in my native England. This year I found seeds on Amazon but unfortunately not until early May, hence my seedlings are now only an inch tall. I will keep unsown seeds and plant them next winter in the hopes of enjoying this beautiful plant in our garden. I was so excited to see this article in this wonderful online magazine, thank you.
Valerie Curgenven says
I cannot tell you how much I love Verbena Bonariensis and have lusted after finding the plant here for many years ( it grows everywhere in my native England) this year I found and ordered seeds on Amazon but not until early May. My seedlings are less than an inch tall so am not expecting flowers this year. I will save unsown seeds and plant them next February with a view to having them bloom next summer. Who knows I may get a plant or two, fingers crossed.
Kathy MacKenzie says
After reading about the wonders of this plant, I searched five or six nurseries this year for Verbena bonariensis and came up empty handed. I wish more nurseries would carry it.
Gillian Brown says
I LOVE Verbena bonarienais, but they need to be treated like an annual in Ontario, one year they survived a Winter to my delight.