To Verbena, with Gratitude

Every label I have read clearly states verbena is an annual in zones 4 to 7. I read labels and used to believe them. But, I am beginning to think labels are best thought of as educated guesses—more like what the grower believes about a plant rather than botanical facts. 

The first year I planted verbena, it was already summer, and only two plants were available. Both were small, and despite their size, I divided them into two plants each. I watered them but looking back, not nearly enough. They bloomed sporadically and died as expected with winter. This is the way annuals are supposed to behave. 

Last year, I went looking for raspberry verbena early in spring and could not find any. Very disappointed, I settled for scarlet. The scarlet plants were small, so I planted 10 in the strip between the street and sidewalk. The scarlet grew well, but the summer heat stopped its growth, despite frequent rains. By autumn, of the original ten plants, only seven remained to face the frost.  

Catmint with raspberry verbena in background Maxxum 7D


About four weeks past prime planting time, the plant guy at ACE hardware, remembering my requests eight weeks earlier, brought me four raspberry verbena. These went in the ground in late May last year, and surprisingly, they did well, blooming until November.  This past winter was the coldest we have had in four years. Frequent frosts killed everything by mid-January. 

This spring, surveying my yard, I counted the slots for annuals, decided about 40 were needed, and went looking for verbena. However, around mid-March, when I started to clear away the dead leaves from last season, I noticed little bits of green here and there where the new annuals were to go. Looking at them closely, I couldn’t tell what they were, so I decided to wait before digging them out—I’m glad I did!

Eight of the scarlet verbena returned, and not timidly—they are showing off. There are mounds of scarlet verbena that are so radiant in the sunlight that they seem to be on fire. Meanwhile, those four raspberry verbenas have spread to form a carpet of deep magenta flowers that is taking over one corner of the yard. I am amazed, and so are my neighbors. 

Usually, we have to wait until mid-May until the flowers start to show off. But thanks to the verbena, with assistance from the catmint and Gerber daisies, there has been a daily performance since March. I’m not complaining, just surprised, and becoming ever more skeptical about labels. 

Scarlet verbena showing off, Maxxum 7D

Gardening brings many surprises. Those first three years, I lost more plants than I care to remember. To those doomed plants, add the ones that languished, unhappy and refusing to bloom. For each of them, at some point, I’ve quietly cursed my fate and wondered why. Seeing these verbenas, given up for dead, return in such spectacular fashion makes it obvious my ruefulness did not go unnoticed. Good things do indeed come to those who wait!

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