Verbascums are beautiful, summer-flowering perennials or biennials. With their distinctive, upright spires of flowers, they add height and structure to a planting scheme. Although our wild verbascum, greater mullein, is a common sight in the wild, garden cultivars are readily available, flowering in a range of colours from white to yellow, orange, blue and purple. Verbascums combine well with other summer perennials and grasses and, although a traditional cottage garden favourite, they suit contemporary planting displays too. Shorter varieties also work well in containers. Verbascums are good for wildlife, including bees and hoverflies and moths.
How to grow verbascums
Grow verbasucms in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Cut back after flowering or allow to self seed. You can take root cuttings of verbascums in autumn.
More on growing verbascums:
Where to plant verbascums
Verbascums originate in areas where the conditions are sunny and soil is well-drained. In gardens, they will need neutral to alkaline soil in a dry, sunny position. Verbascums also cope with partial shade, as long as the conditions are dry.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don is in his Dry Garden, where he grows plants that love to bask in full sun and thrive in poor, free-draining soil. After cutting back the faded flower spikes of Verbascum olympicum, he shows you how to plant more, this time Verbascum (Cotswold Group) ‘Gainsborough’, which will send up dramatic 1.5m-tall spires of yellow flowers next summer:
How to plant verbascums
You can grow verbascums easily from seed. Then, in late spring, plant pot-grown verbascums as you would any summer flowering perennial.
How to care for verbascums
Verbascums are easy to grow and don’t need too much care once established. Try cutting down old flowering stems to ground level to prolong flowering.
How to propagate verbascums
Many varieties of verbascum will self-seed and you can save seed to sow in autumn or spring. But if you want to make more of a particular cultivar, the best method of propagation is to take root cuttings in autumn.
In this Gardeners’ World video guide, Carol Klein shows you how easy it is to take root cuttings from verbascums in autumn:
Growing verbascums: problem solving
Verbascums have their own caterpillar, the larvae of mullein moth, Cucullia verbasci. These can be easily spotted by damage to the leaves – obvious unsightly holes. You can enjoy verbascums and support wildlife by growing plants towards the centre of the border so the damaged leaves are not obvious. Or grow a group of sacrificial wild mullein nearby and transfer the caterpillars onto these plants by hand.
Great verbascum varieties to try
- Verbascum thapsus – our native, wild verbascum, the great or woolly mullein, is a large biennial. In its first year it produces a rosette of large, silvery, hairy leaves then, in its second year, it bears a flower spike up to 2.5m tall, with multiple bright yellow flowers. A reliable self-seeder, it needs sharp drainage and full sun, and not too much competition from nearby plants.
- Verbascum ‘Firedance’ – a medium height variety, with rich, copper-red, bronzey flowers, this looks great combined with grasses.
- Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ – has pretty white flowers with red-purple centres on spires 90cm tall, over a long-flowering season from May to August.
- Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’ – a taller variety with deeply-veined leaves and spires up to1.1m bearing sunny yellow flowers with a dark purple centre from July to September.
- Verbascum phoenicium ‘Violetta’ – a more compact perennial variety, with unusual deep purple blooms on spires up to 90cm that is good for borders and containers. The seedheads darken to a reddish-black and are also attractive, giving it a long season of interest.
- Verbascum ‘Blue Lagoon’ – a smaller variety with bright blue flowers with yellow stamens. Easily grown from seed, it’s a good plant for borders or containers.
- Verbascum ‘Clementine’ – a tall, elegant cultivar, the light orange flowers have dark pink centres and appear on branching stems from a central spire that can grow up to 1.5m.