Thursday, September 2, 2010

Verbascum…from “hate it” to “love it”

I can remember the exact day that I changed my mind. I’d seen many of them in people’s yards; one of my neighbors had a few. And I hated them. I think part of the problem was that the rest of the yard was weedy and unkempt, and so they looked like weeds too. (and in fact now I’ve learned that many of them are).
The day that I changed my mind was April 3rd, 2009. We had made a trip down to Eugene, OR, for my husband’s birthday. No particular reason it was just a place to go, we’re still exploring this adopted state of ours. As I’ve mentioned before, bookstores are my husband’s weakness, college bookstores are even better. So we were exploring the U of O bookstore and I started thumbing through this book John Brooks Garden Masterclass and there they were on the cover! And they looked amazing! Inside there were more, just look at their fabulous candelabra bloom spikes!
I was hooked. I think it was seeing them in a ‘designed’ garden setting that allowed me to finally recognize their unique beauty. I immediately bought a couple of Verbascum bombyciferum 'Arctic Summer' and planted them; they are anything but inspiring when still small plants but within a growing season become amazing. Here is a recently planted seedling.
And one about 3 months old.
A few months later I discovered the affectionately titled Arizona Garden right here in Portland. And I knew I was on the right path when I saw theirs. Big sexy woolly leaves!
Now I notice their dramatic bloom spikes everywhere…on a walk to dinner with a friend…
In the Arizona garden….
And on our trip to Central Oregon…
Although these are the weedy variety, Verbascum Thapsus L., or Common mullein. Seedlings…
From the book Weeds of the West…”this weed was introduced from Europe, but it is a native of Asia and is common throughout the temperate parts of North America. It is a common sight along river bottoms, in pastures, meadows, fence rows and waste areas, especially on gravelly soils. Because of the large number of seeds produced by each plant, it is difficult to control. Livestock will not eat the plant because of its woolliness. Flowering and seed production occur from June to August.”
Weeds or not, I now see them all as beautiful. I even love the dried stalks they leave behind when the plant dies.My wilted, and now officially dead, plant still has a beauty to it. How many plants do you know that die so beautifully?
Next summer I should be enjoying squiggly blooms from these two…I can’t wait!
And I’ve got six new seedlings planted ready to go crazy next year, or the year after. So I’m curious…are there any plants you once hated that now you can’t live without? Can you remember the moment you changed your mind?


  1. Interesting question. I'll have to think about it for a while. I was *indifferent* to agaves for quite a while after I moved to Austin. And then I started reading Tom Spencer's blog Soul of the Garden, and he's nuts for agaves and photographs them beautifully, and I was converted.

    At any rate, I LOVE the big, silver leaves of your verbascum and will have to look for the 'Arctic Summer' cultivar.

  2. I love those thick ripply leaves. They really look nice against the rock and against the darker plants. Fantastic contrast!

  3. You just converted me right now. Thanks - I will not snub my nose at them any more!

  4. Pam is right: it is an interesting question. It usually goes the other way, doesn't it? I would have to say Lychnis, now that I have resigned my self to the deadheading it requires if it is to mind its manners.

  5. I would have nothing to do with Lantanas for years..way to common in my LA childhood- I have at least 10 at the moment. I think your Verbascums are splendid !

  6. I guess you bought the book in April of last year!

    I love mulleins and verbascums of all kinds. Those soft, downy-gray leaves are fabulous!

    As for a plant I hated earlier, that would be pulmonaria. I never saw the attraction in them until I saw a great display of them at Pittock Mansion last summer. Now I just need proper shade in which to plant some!

  7. I'm curious, Loree, if you're partial to the Verbascum phoeniceum. The leaves are green and the flowers in the pinks and purples but the form is the same.

    I think the setting makes a huge difference as to whether a plant appeals to us as you so aptly illustrated. I suppose it's the old cliche, "Location, location, location."

  8. Oh that's really a cool looking plant!

  9. This must be a very adaptable species, because it grows wild here as well. I don't know which species or even if it is native. I remember seeing them all along the railroads tracks growing up and asked my mom what they were, but out of character for her, she did not know.

  10. Loree, there is a verbascum out there with wooly, chartreuse, wavy leaves -- I kid you not. It goes by different names but I bought it as V. undulatum. Wish I had a picture but don't. Mine died and left no babies. You might see it up in Portland.

    So far I haven't been smitten by true cactus but find myself staring at them longer, so something might be changing.

  11. Want want want. I was already in love with the foliage from one of your foliage follow-up posts (I think?) but I had NO idea the flower spikes were so wildly, squiggly COOL! MUST HAVE! I'm running off to look for somewhere to buy seeds.

  12. I love Verbascum! As with most of the other posters, we had them growing wild where I grew up and I was always amazed at those huge spires of blooms. That being said, I'm finding I almost like the basal rosette more than the blooms...such texture and color...and such presence in the garden! Yours are actually some of the nicest specimens I've seen...even as adaptable as they are, a lot of the ones around town are looking a little ratty this year! I honestly can't think of anything I hated and love now...maybe Euphorbias. I don't think I really hated them, just found them a little boring when I first moved to Oregon, but they've grown on me...if nothing else, for the long season of interest they provide. BTW...thanks for the comment on my post about the kitchen...I LOVE your marmoleum...chartreuse is one of my favorite colors. I tried to convince my partner a while ago that it would be nice (not to mention practical and durable) for our kitchen...but he was pretty set on tile (not that I mind). Love how yours came out...and I think the charcoal in the bathroom is awesome...that's the color I would have used in our kitchen, had we gone with marmoleum.

  13. I keep walking by a neighbor's house asking why they don't pull those weeds. Ha! Thanks for the post.

  14. Pam, *GASP* to Agaves!? This hurts.

    Laura, thank you.

    Liza, oh so glad I could help you see these plants differently.

    ricki, deadheading...such fun.

    ks, of course! The curse of childhood. My husband dislikes all Coleus for this very reason.

    MulchMaid, yes I did! (buy the book). Pulmonaria have not really grown on me yet. Perhaps I need to look into this.

    Grace, not yet (Verbascum phoeniceum)...but I'm not ruling it out.

    MTJ, glad you think so!

    Les, adaptable = weed...right?

    Denise, oh yes...I LOVE this V. undulatum of which you speak. I have never seen one "in real life" but have seen them in pictures (Annie's Annuals site). I desperately want one...and I am on the hunt.

    Greensparrow, if I can acquire seed from one of the blooms I regularly see (or my one plant that has bloomed but is in too shady of an area to have a cool photo worthy bloom) I will send you some!

    Scott, I think you've just written the longest comment ever here on danger garden! Boring Euphorbia? The shame! (kidding). It's a compromise isn't it? When you love something and the other half does not? Like those porcelain house numbers that you see around town. Standard issue in the 60's or something like that. I want to replace them with cool modern numbers. He wants to keep them. It's a compromise...

    stace, yay! glad I could help.

  15. Do these Verbascum Thapsus L., or Common mullein have medicinal herb properties?

    1. Sadly I'm not the person to speak to that...hope you find out!

    2. Oh boy, DO they have medicinal properties!!! I'm sipping mullein-leaf tea as I write, trying to get over a cold with bad congestion. Mullein has been researched extensively and found to be "good for all things respiratory" - sinus and chest congestion, bronchitis, COPD, snotting and coughing - it eliminates excess mucus from the body. Its flavor is mild and combines well with other herbs. I mix my own "cold & cough tea" with mullein, yarrow, thyme, fennel or anise seed, licorice root, slippery elm bark, peppermint, catnip, horehound - or any combination of those, cooked for 10-15 minutes, then poured through paper towel or a coffee filter to remove the solids. Mullein has been my go-to mucus exterminator and cough soother for years. It grows almost everywhere, and the leaves can be harvested from earliest spring - even during the winter, if the snow melts and reveals the first-year leaf rosettes. Harvest the leaves right up till August, when they start to turn brown. I pull or cut them off the plant stalk, take them home, wash them a little to remove any dust, then pin them to my indoor clotheslines strung across the back room. I turn on an oscillating fan and let them dry in the breeze from it until they're crisp, then strip the soft material from the mid-rib, crunch it up between my hands and bag or jar it for storage. I've shared it with a number of folks who suffer from asthma, COPD and chronic bronchitis and find it really helps them. There are no side-effects, no drug interactions, and it's safe for any age. The flowers can also be steeped in olive oil (in a jar in a sunny window), with the resulting infusion used to stop earaches. I love mullein! Oh - it also makes wonderfully soft 'toilet paper' in the wild, and you'll NEVER confuse it with poison ivy or poison oak!

  16. Any idea on which subspecies has the velvety texture on the leaves?

    1. Those are gorgeous! I'm no exert, maybe 'Arctic Summer'?

    2. That looks very close, thanks

  17. Verbascums are amazing! And with more than 170 species, they’re a largely untapped resource. Some of them are ugly but there really are some spectacular ones out there... wiedemannium, olympicum (if you can lay hands on genuine seed), undulatum, chrysocardium, bellum... I’ll never tire of them!


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