Venerated Verbena

If ever there was a list of sacred plants, verbena would be close to the top.

Verbena, translated directly from Latin, means Sacred Bough and throughout history it was thought to inspire creativity, be a cure-all and some even believed it could aid in settling disputes, firmly locking in links to folklore and being magical. Druids used to offer a sacrifice to the soil before harvesting it, such was their veneration for the plant.

Another well-known yet ancient term for Verbena is the Medieval Latin translation, Vervain, which comes from the Celtic “ferfaen, from fer (to drive away), and faen (a stone)” as it was used for bladder problems, especially kidney stones. Some of the more intriguing names this well-respected plant was known by are holy wort, trombhad, herb of grace, enchanter's plant, Indian and wild hyssop, turkey grass, and Juno’s tears.

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In 1875, Dr. O.P. Borwan proclaimed: “A more valuable plant is not found within the whole range of the herbal pharmacopoeia.”, so it will come as no surprise that Verbena has many medicinal uses it is important to note that the dried leaves of Verbena officinalis contain the glucoside verbenaline which can cause paralysis if used incorrectly!

The shopping list for garden plants almost always contains the items; “prolific flowering”, “hardy”, “heat-tolerant” and “low maintenance”. How fortuitous that Verbena has all those qualities? In fact, as long as you set them up in good position when you first pop them in your garden, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well they respond to being ignored … almost flatly.

Pick a really sunny position, one that gets at least eight hours of direct sunlight every day and make sure the soil drains well and your disease prevention with this lovely garden plant will be all but sorted. Powdery mildew and other diseases that Verbena are susceptible to will never get a look in without the excess moisture to get going.

Start your seedlings off with a little extra care with a well composted bed and regular watering while they are establishing themselves. When they’re about 15cm tall, you can fertilise them, once off, with a balanced slow release fertiliser. Now it’s time to give a lot less and expect a lot more! Only water your plants when the soil has dried out to at least one centimetre deep.

The giving part of looking after Verbena’s is in deadheading their spent blooms, if of course you want more blooms. They are quite fussy about expending more energy putting out fresh blooms while old blooms are still scattered about so if you snip the old ones off they’ll respond in kind by replacing them.

Verbena works well in hanging baskets, pots, rockeries or garden beds so why not pick some up, in your favourite colour, next time you pop into your local garden centre? With colours ranging from mauve, purple and pink to apricot, red and even some bi-coloured ones, there is something magical waiting to fill that spot in your garden.

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