Verbascum phoeniceum is a stately plant, which combines architectural form with beautiful colouring. It is a true perennial which can flower the first year given an early sowing. The 'Hybrids Mix' flower freely with elegant spires in shades of apricot, carmine, salmon, white, violet and claret which are always much admired.
English gardeners are very familiar with this plant and consider it essential for a well-structured garden. Vita Sackville-West wrote in 1936 that her verbascums looked as though "a colony of tiny butterflies had settled all over them".
Verbascums are statuesque in both foliage and flower. The plants add upward movement to the garden with their groups of spiky flower stalks that look like a floral candelabrum. Their height and strong architectural qualities help to fill an otherwise visual void with eye-catching interest. Their poise makes this plant a natural candidate for the front of a mixed border, even though its height might suggest, as with hollyhocks, that it should go at the back. In summer winds, which snap off delphiniums and toss sunflowers awry, the Verbascum stands defiant.
Verbascum phoeniceum deserve romantic roles: as partners for old roses, which they succeed in flower; in groupings of which the main members are rounded or vase-like in shape or standing in front of softly coloured hydrangeas. A favorite cottage garden combination is to grow them with towering hollyhocks, or with delphiniums in a myriad of colours.
Sowing: Sow in spring or in autumn
If started as early as January, this strain usually blooms the first year from seed. Later sown seedlings will provide blooms the following year. Germination 7 to 21 days.
Seeds can be sown directly where they are to flower in either Spring (two to four weeks before average last frost date) or in Autumn (up to two months before first autumn frost) Sow thinly and thin seedlings to an eventual spacing of 38 to 45cm.
Sow 6 to 8 weeks before planting outdoors in April to May. The plants have a long tap root, so you may wish to use root trainers or long pots. Take care when transplanting. Sow in trays, pots, etc of good seed compost. Space 2.5cm (1in) between the seeds. Cover the seeds lightly with compost or medium-grade vermiculite to help keep the seed moist during germination. Avoid direct sunlight by shading seeds after sowing. Place in a propagator or warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 15-18°C (60-65°F). Keep soil slightly moist but not wet.
Following germination, reduce the moisture levels somewhat, allowing the growing medium to dry out slightly before watering to help promote rooting. They are usually ready for transplanting in 5-7 weeks. Transplant into 10-18cm (4 to 7in) pot. Harden off and plant out when all risk of frost has passed 45cm (18in) apart in full sun.
Verbascum grows best under full sun in locations with moist but well drained soil; sites with poor drainage will most likely lead to plant mortality. They require a mulch in the winter for protection.
Verbascum is a moderate feeder. Growing them under high fertility regimes generally causes them to become very lush and delay flowering. Don't fertilize after mid Sept.
To encourage the plant to repeat bloom or extend the bloom season to late in the year, cut off the centre stalk after initial flowering, just to where you see side shoots emerging. Approx 4-5 weeks to the second flowering. It will also extend the life of your plant
These are evergreen plants; they keep their leaves year round, losing the aerial part during the coldest months of the year. As spring begins, stems and leaves quickly start to reproduce.
Border, Cottage Garden, Mediterranean or Gravel Garden. Exposed Coastal planting. Problem areas. Architectural. Drought, heat, deer, slug and snail proof.
Pick the flowers as required. For dried flowers, place the flowers face down on paper or racks away from light to preserve colour (and medicinal properties). Use in potpourri.
The leaves are sometimes used in medicinal teas, but should not be taken in excess as they are mildly toxic. Use the large velvety leaves in shoes or slippers to keep the feet warm and help ward off chilblains.
Verbascum phoeniceum is native to Central Europe, Central Asia and Western China. It is also found naturalised in certain regions of the US and Canada. The plants are well suited to sandy or rocky soils.
Native to the mountains of Greece. The word 'Verbascum' is likely to have been derived from two Latin sources ‘ver’ meaning ‘spring’ and ‘barbascum', which means ‘bearded plant’.
The species name phoeniceum refers to the colour 'purple-red' (bright red or scarlet) after the dye that came from Phoenicia.
Phoenicia was an ancient civilization composed of independent city-states which lay along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea stretching through what is now Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel.
Phoenicia thrived as a maritime trader and manufacturing centre from c.1500-332 BCE and was highly regarded for their skill in ship-building, glass-making, the production of dyes, and an impressive level of skill in the manufacture of luxury and common goods.
The purple dye manufactured and used in Tyre for the robes of Mesopotamian royalty gave Phoenicia the name by which we know it today (from the Greek Phoinikes for Tyranian Purple) and also accounts for the Phoenicians being known as 'purple people’ by the Greeks (as the Greek historian Herodotus tells us) because the dye would stain the skin of the workers.
The plant is commonly known as The Purple Mullein. The common name of 'Mullein' derives from the Latin 'mollis' meaning soft.
One of the old common names is ‘the candlewick plant’ because the large soft furry leaves were cut into strips, dried, and used as wicks for candles.
Recently these common names have fallen by the wayside. When a plant sheds its common name and becomes known only by its official Latin title, it is a sure sign that it has come up in the world. The Verbascum has shrugged off as many as 10 downmarket pseudonyms as it has ascended the horticultural social scale, moving from the disorderly surroundings of the cottage garden to elegant colour-themed plantings. This stately plant, which combines architectural form with beautiful colouring, deserves this elevation.
Folklore and Facts:
Poachers of fish are said to have made their quarry drunk by feeding them the seeds. Cockroaches are allergic to one species. A concoction from the tissues is supposed to turn the hair as golden as a goddess's, and a tisane has been claimed to cure many ills, from gout to ringworm.
According to Pliny the Elder, verbascum can cure superficial abscess when used in a poultice made of pounded root, sprinkled in wine and wrapped in leaves but only if the patient fasts and the poultice is applied by a naked maiden who has also been fasting. The maiden must say ‘Apollo tells us that plague cannot grow more fiery in a patient if a naked maiden quench the fire’. Mandragora is an alternative treatment for abscesses but does not require the involvement of a naked maiden so may not have been as popular.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 1,500 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 7.500 seeds per gram Family Plantaginaceae Genus Verbascum Species phoeniceum Cultivar Hybrids Mix Common Name Purple Mullein Other Common Names Candlewick plant Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Mixed colours: apricot, carmine, salmon, white, violet, claret Natural Flower Time May to August. First year flowering. Foliage Low-growing rosette of large ovate, silvery-green leaves Height 100-120cm (36-48in) Spread 60cm (24in) Position Full Sun Soil Well-drained/light, Chalky/alkaline, Dry, Sandy