Monday, March 16, 2009
Verbena, verbena, verbena
This summer I fell in love all over again - with an old gardening favourite, the American verbena.
In New Zealand there are essentially two different types of verbenas – those that are grown as annuals, and those that we treat as perennials.
I think the annual verbenas are not planted anywhere enough. They provide a steady stream of colour right through the summer, and are available in a wide range of colours.
I have a particular soft spot for bi-coloured flowers, and was taken with a red- and white form I saw bedded out in a local garden. I think red and white make brilliant companions in the garden – I remember a planting of red and white petunias in an elevated brick planter, backed by a white trellis covered in Dublin Bay – and this planting in an elevated bed was very memorable.
It is difficult for the home gardener to get access to single colours in many annual varieties, although it is simple enough for commercial growers. Some companies make it easier though. My Taranaki friends at Egmont Seeds (whose catalogue is on line) sell single colours to the public.
I think their most popular strain is the older ‘Crystal Ball’ which is composed of solid coloured flowers in a wide range of colours – it includes apricot, blue, white, magenta, rose and deep pink – and is able to cope with light frosts so it will survive well into the autumn.
The Quart series is a marvellous one for bedding, for baskets or for containers. There is a mix of solid and two-toned types, and again, a wide range of colours. There are also some interesting mixes available, with a ‘Waterfalls Mix’ which includes lavender, purple and white forms, and ‘Merlot Mix’ (which should attract those of us who like alcoholic drinks) which features plain burgundy, burgundy with a white eye, magenta, rose and white.
I think my favourite variety of all the bedding verbenas is still the wonderful ‘Peaches and Cream’. This is an international award winning strain that we first grew in the nursery about ten years ago, and fell in love with straight away. It is absolutely brilliant in association with terracotta, so is ideally suited to pots. It has a unique two tone orange and peach colour pattern, brighter when opening, but then fading to a creamy shade as each flowers ages. Like most bedding verbena, it is a half hardy perennial best treated as an annual.
All the bedding verbenas will do well in any well-fertilised soil, with adequate moisture and full sun. The requirement for an open position is fundamental to solving the only problem that these bedding beauties have – they are a little prone to mildew. In the shade – especially in damp shade – they will quickly cover themselves with the tell-tale silvery powder that is an indicator of the disease.