A few years ago, when the official word came down from Garden Command Central, I ran out and bought some Verbena bonariensis.
It's done amazingly well in my garden. The bees love it. The butterflies love it. The goldfinches love it. Ron loves it.
Unfortunately, I kind of hate it.
To me, Verbena bonariensis is the most over-hyped and over-rated plant out there today, starting with the color. Some call it rose-purple. Others call it lavender. I call it blah.
The plant's common name is "Verbena on a Stick," which gives you a good idea of its habit. Garden designers say it's airy and architectural. I say it's spindly and weak. Mine are nearly 6 feet tall, and since the stems at the flower heads are particularly thin, a good rainfall - or a half-ounce goldfinch - can easily bend them. By September the plant is a mess.
Shall I go on? It self-seeds everywhere, with a grows-between-cracks vigor that makes annual Vinca look like an amateur. For good measure, it gets powdery mildew every year, no matter what I do. The mildew doesn't seem to hurt the plant, but it doesn't do much for its looks, either.
And yet it stays. Every winter I vow to rip it out and plant something else. Every spring it gets a reprieve. Partly it's because I'm outnumbered - Ron, the goldfinches, the bees, and the butterflies all like it, so that settles that. Partly it's because when I'm in a generous mood, I will concede that it has a few good qualities. To wit: it flowers like an annual, even thought it's a perennial in Zone 7b. It's better than having a goldfinch feeder - no need to buy niger seed, plus you never have to refill it. The seedlings, though plentiful, are easy to identify and easy to pull. And in a certain light, at a certain angle, after a glass of wine, it can look pretty.
Even so, I'm still not sure why Verbena bonariensis became the "It" plant. Inevitably, the fad will peak and the now ubiquitous VB will meet the fate of the Stella De Oro daylily: a victim of its own success. Landscape designers will shun it (too cliched) and serious home gardeners will roll their eyes at the mere mention of it (too common, and doesn't make up for it by being native).
Gardeners are one tough crowd to please.
Hi there! I didn't know that VB was an "it" plant! Last year some friends gave us a few clumps and said "don't worry, they will spread." Well, this year I have them all over the place...just like you said!! I've found that if I let them get a couple inches tall, they're easier to pull out. I still like them, but I'm keeping them more contained this year!
6/6/2013 11:52:41 am
If you can figure out how to do that, let me know! I think the birds must drop seed everywhere. They aren't hard to pull out, but there are so many of them, and they keep on coming, all season long.
I hadn't really heard much about VB, so I did a little research and it seems as though everyone loves this plant except you! It doesn't need staking, the deer don't eat it, and it looks as though the flower clusters are "floating". What's not to love? LOL
6/6/2013 02:57:41 pm
It doesn't fill in, alas. But I think maybe it needs to be in a deeper perennial bed than I happen to have, and the see through effect would be better. Well, I never claimed to be a garden designer.
6/7/2013 02:13:03 am
Glad I could make you smile.
I'm lukewarm when it comes to this plant. It reseeds here but not a bad as Cleome, Talinum (yikes!) or an annual Amaranthus I bought a few years ago and have been pulling out by the handful since. Usually I leave a few and pull out the rest. One positive for me is it reseeds in my front curb garden where not much prefers to grow. One of these nights I'll have to size it up after a glass of wine or two and see if that improves my perspective.
6/7/2013 02:16:33 am
I haven't had experience with any of the annuals you mention, but at least cleome is prettier, in my opinion. Although it gets pretty big too! I highly recommend that glass of wine - it has the most amazing effect on my garden!
You definitely hit a nerve here. I was put off when everyone started mentioning this plant and I was seeing it everywhere -- it was assumed that if you were wildlife-friendly and if you were in the "know", Verbena bonarienesis was in your garden. Huh. I did not see the attractiveness, and I was put off by the assumption that of course one had to have it. Interesting to read your candid view of it, both the pros and the cons!
6/7/2013 02:21:13 am
I'm with you and don't like people telling me what I "should" have in my garden if I cared about wildlife. Having said that, I try to think of Verbena bonariensis as a bird feeder, not a flower, since it makes it gives me a reason to keep it around.
6/7/2013 03:31:38 am
"Deer don't like it?" It blooms reliably?
6/7/2013 03:56:52 am
Dear Elaine from the Northeast,
I enjoyed this post, and share your lukewarm attitude towards V. bonariensis. Here it is an annual, though it does reseed. I don't mind the color, but it always looks like it is about to fall over, or it was grown in a cellar with no light. Spindly is the word that comes to mind. By the way, my dream is to gather together a small band of courageous gardeners to form a Rebel Alliance that will challenge the tyranny of Garden Command Central. Are you in?
6/7/2013 07:59:59 am
6/8/2013 07:41:47 am
It's always more fun to read a review that pans rather than praises. I think Christopher Lloyd got the whole VB thing going. I confess to liking it, but I have a large property where spreading is welcome, mine blooms purple and stands up quite sturdily.
6/8/2013 10:09:50 am
Isn't it funny how plant colors vary depending on where they are grown? I might not mind it as much if mine were really purple, instead of the washed out shade it is. And your is also probably more optimally sited than mine, also. So maybe I've been unfair to poor VB.
Ha, I remember when I saw this plant in just about every gardening magazine a couple years ago! I actually do love it, because it attracts so much wildlife. However, mine did not seed nearly as prolifically as yours seem to have. In fact, I don't think I got any seedlings out of it! It was growing on a very hot, dry bank in my yard that has killed many a less hardy plant, so maybe that has something to do with it.
6/8/2013 10:11:18 am
I agree. Judging from the other comments, it performs differently and actually looks different (i.e, better) in other places. But why wouldn't it get powdery mildew in North Carolina, right? Everything else does!
6/8/2013 02:44:05 pm
I have had a love/hate relationship with verbena b., too. One year it took over my long perennial bed and drove me crazy. I mercilessly ripped it out by the chunks, only keeping a few plants. Now I make sure to plant it in the very back of the bed and keep the invasion to a manageable level. I love it again. The pollinators/birds love it and it's a food source for buckeye caterpillars.
6/9/2013 01:51:43 am
I think keeping it in the back of the bed is key. Otherwise, it's just too messy. I am going to take follow your example and rip out the ones that have self-seeded too far in the front. After the season, of course!
I'm growing VB for the first time this year....admittedly lured in by the fact it's an addition to the nectar bar I'm trying to create in our garden. I saw this in someone elses garden & questioned (politely to myself in my head)....Why?
6/9/2013 04:30:23 am
It will definitely perform as part of your "nectar bar," so I have a feeling it will be with you for a while. But as you already know, it's not that thrilling to look at! Thanks so much for coming to my blog. I'm looking forward to checking yours out. English gardens are my great envy and dream and alas, are unattainable in North Carolina.
I must confess that I have admired Verbena bonariensis and have thought to try to grow some. It looks great in the late summer when other perennials have faded (it is an annual here). Your post is a good cautionary tale. It sounds rather like the self-seeded geraniums in my garden: they are EVERYWHERE! Pretty as they are, after you get twenty or more plants geraniums start to lose a little of their appeal. I could see Verbena bonariensis also might wear out its welcome.
6/9/2013 03:16:38 pm
Wow. I didn't realize that geraniums self seeded (maybe that's because I can't even get them to live down here). But what you say is true: even if you absolutely love the plant, eventually enough is enough.
6/10/2013 02:22:14 am
Once again, I feel the envy of a zone 5 gardener whose garden does not recognize the word self-sow. I love this verbena and had it once. It always dwindled and disappeared. No matter what. I aspire to ripping out unwanted offspring. I'll just go back go waiting for the plague of seventeen year cicadas to end.
6/10/2013 04:10:23 am
You make Zone 5 gardening sound so appealing - verbena bonariensis that refuses to behave like verbena bonariensis, with some 17-year cicadas thrown in for good measure. But I promise you that Zone 7 gardening has its challenges. Have you ever heard of the kudzu bug? Come to my back deck and I'll introduce you.
It's definitely been an It plant on this side of the pond. I grew some last year and was a bit disapointed by the whole spindly appearance thing but felt it just needed placing better so it was growing up between other plants. Being relatively new to gardening, I was quite pleased to see the results of all this self seeding this year. Only now do I know the horror in store...
6/14/2013 03:47:51 am
My attitude is, if you love the plant, then the self-seeding is a good thing. It's only a nuisance if you feel you already have plenty, thank you very much. But I think you are totally right about placement - it's key to get the placement right or the plant looks spindly and awful.
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The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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