Verbena Bonariensis Beds

In April 2012, I added two new beds at The Priory.

New Flower Beds (2)

Spot the robin

I cut the turf from either side of the path-to-nowhere and planted a mix of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and Verbena bonariensis.

New Flower Beds (3)

September 2012

And it was OK but not a resounding success.

New Flower Beds (4)

June 2013

Nonetheless, I stuck with it for another year hoping for a big ‘wow’ improvement.  Fat chance.  Disappointed, I winced a little, shaking my head despondently as I walked past.

Verbena bonariensis (10)

September 2013

At the far end, these beds become standing pools in winter and the nepeta sulked.  You can see the plants are smaller towards the box.

New Flower Beds (5)

April 2014

This year, I decided to *drumroll* Take Action.  As I’ve been keen to experiment with block planting, I ditched the nepeta altogether, smothered the beds in my sweet-smelling, crumbly, chocolatey, rub-in-your-face compost and planted verbena.  Nothing else.  Very simple but I thought it would work.  It was cheap too; free actually.  Verbena self-seeds wantonly at the Priory and I had far more plants than I could possibly use.

New Flower Beds (6)

May 2014

With a little trepidation I sat back, supped Earl Grey, flicked through ‘Hello’ magazine and waited for the results.  I was curious.  I hadn’t seen beds filled only with VB.

New Flower Beds (1)

June 2014

I edged, I weeded and I hoed quite regularly.  These beds are home to oxalis, pearlwort and. encroaching from the lawn, opportunistic yarrow and creeping-bleeding-buttercup.  I thinned some VB and transplanted more to fill any gaps.

Verbena bonariensis (11)

July 2014

And for once, the gardening gods smiled indulgently and patted me on the head.  I think the result is pleasing.

Verbena bonariensis (5)

At whatever time of day

Verbena bonariensis (4)

it catches and holds the eye.

Verbena bonariensis (7)

It shimmers in sunlight and waves gently in the breeze

Verbena bonariensis (8)

but doesn’t block.

Verbena bonariensis (6)

It is, of course, also hugely popular with bees and butterflies.

Verbena bonariensis (3)

But what I do need is a far stronger, larger focal point at the end of the path-to-nowhere.

Verbena bonariensis (9)

Small box hedging, paving covered in creeping thyme, a handful of potted succulents and a crumbling bird-path filled with desultory sedum isn’t enough.  The path ought to lead the visitor and the eye to something more substantial.  It ought to be a path-to-somewhere.

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46 thoughts on “Verbena Bonariensis Beds

  1. When I was doing my Hort training at Sparsholt College there was a border, next to the area we used to stand around in for tea-breaks, which was planted with just VB. It looked absolutely great, and kept going well into the autumn. I haven’t got room at my own garden to try it (though I do grow a bit of VB, as it’s a favourite – mainly ‘Lollipop’ as it’s smaller) – but might summon up the courage to inflict it on a client one of these days!
    As for a new focal point, I’d back a large (and I mean large) planter over a bench/arbour given the location. I might be tempted (no, I would be tempted) to drop the little box hedge too at the same time. It’s not quite in proportion to the rest.

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    • Hi. Thanks for that. I hadn’t heard of Lollipop before – interesting. The box hedge is young still and I want it much taller but as the whole area needs re-thinking it may have to go anyway. Lots to think about. Dave

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    • Thanks for the hint on growing ‘Lollipop’. I grew VB for the first time this year and it grew so tall it was ridiculous – it must be at least 8 feet and now it is listing drunkenly after our high winds.
      I know I planted it amongst other perennials so it might have struggled a bit to reach the light initially, but it now soars way above everything else in the garden.

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  2. The verbena makes a beautiful transparent screen to edge your path, a vast improvement on the scrawny nepeta that failed to live up to the dream! I too think that a sturdy plant-smothered arbour at the end, above a seat, would make a rather lovely punctuation to the path to nowhere.

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  3. Inspired brilliance, Dave. Everything looks better planted in blocks and I love that you’ve used the transparency of the verbena to still be able to see the rest of the garden. A self-seeder, too – even better. Love all the suggestions for a bench or arbour, definitely something fun or intriguing needed at the end of the runway. Caro x

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    • Hello Caro, thanks. I’m pleased that I posted this – I almost didn’t bother. But it has highlighted the innate problem with the path – and that has been useful, if a head-scratcher. Dave

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  4. Hi Dave, the Verbena bonariensis does look good but I do agree with your thoughts about the path to nowhere. All paths should go somewhere and the way the path ends in the middle of the lawn is a bit odd. Not sure I would place a bench there, I don’t think it would feel comfortable to sit in so much space. Perhaps a bigger focal point like a large pot would look better, a bit like the White Garden focal point,(although possibly a slightly cheaper version!) Helen

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    • Hello Helen, it is odd isn’t it but then the garden hasn’t been thought out and designed beautifully like Sissinghurst. But on the plus side I do have a large pot! I’ll need help in shifting it but it would be interesting to see whether it works better. D

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  5. HI David I recently discovered Verbena B. in a bed at our grandboys Primary School and thought it was great. There it grows with grasses,minimum upkeep for a school and both touchy feely. It’s alovely plant. T.

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    • Hi, verbena does look good with most plants, I think. I have now removed it from parts of the garden – it was becoming too widespread. It was very useful in helping to fill beds in the early days but you can have too much of a good thing. Dave

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  6. When I first started reading, I thought no, it’s not going to work, but it does, it looks fantastic! I’ll add my vote to a bench with arbour, but when you’re sitting down, what will you be looking at beyond the verbena?

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    • Thanks Pauline. As I said to Janet, below, the view would be back to the (obscured) car park – so not brilliant. No reason why a bench couldn’t face to the north and the main pond with meadow and oaks beyond. D

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  7. Can I copy that?
    The nepeta was kind of boring after all, now that the new and improved version is up and running. I love it, brilliant.
    I saw a garden with a large fiberglass dinosaur glaring across the front drive. Could that be an option?…. or I guess a bench would be fine too. You could plant nepeta with it.

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  8. I seeded V. bonnariensis for the first time this spring (South Florida) and I def didn’t plant enough of them. They are, however, reseeding nicely: the second group is coming into bloom now. My plan is to augment with additional seed in the fall if they don’t fill in enough on their own.
    Now regarding your path…you need something huge and dramatic at the focal point, like an enormo unexpectedly wild looking modern art sculpture…something you might not expect at a priory!

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    • If your growing conditions are anything like mine, you’ll have VB seedlings beyond count next spring and will be able to move them about at your leisure to fill any gaps. I find they don’t mind being transplanted and soon get away. I’ll have word with the owner re the ‘Enormous Statue Or Similar Budget’ and see what we might afford. Perhaps a huge bronze gardener, with mug of tea and anxious expression? Dave

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  9. I join the crowd voting for a bench. All paths should end in a comfy place to sit or be ready to explain themselves, is my philosophy. The verbena is lovely — and the tropical border looks great from above!

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    • Hi Stacy, plenty to think about from all the comments left here. The problem does need solving perhaps more than I realised. I think I’ve spent so much of my time with my nose in beds, weeding and planting that I need to sit back more and consider the general layout. Perhaps now that the garden is generally ‘under control’ I can turn my attention more to that. Glad you like the tropical border – it’s looking pretty good this year. I’ll do a post on it later this summer. Dave

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  10. I love it! Verbena and Nepeta sounded like a wild bee magnet but the final choice of the Verbena bonariensis looks even better. It also explains why I’ve not been getting any impact with my Verbena bonariensis, I haven’t been planting them close enough together. Strangely, they have not self-seeded here although they come from seeds I gathered in a friend’s garden in the U.K. Now I can sort that out next year. Amelia

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    • VB not self seeding seems to be a fairly common problem, Amelia which really, really surprises me. I bought a plant about 10 years ago and from that one, I have taken it on to three other gardens of my own as well as several ‘work’ gardens and colonised the Priory too. In many parts of the latter I have to treat it as a weed! Dave

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  11. Yes, Dave, you have made a success out of a flop. Oh, these trials which beset gardeners! I agree with you, you need a big, bold sculpture at the end of that path, something life-size. But I like that you admit that not every day is perfect and that a garden isn’t a result so much as a process.

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    • Thanks Faisal. As you know, I love my job and partly that is because there are always new, exciting jobs to tackle as well as the repetitive and tedious; problems to solve and areas to consider and hopefully improve. I wasn’t going to mention these beds until my sister and friend visited and said how much they liked them. The comments left here too have been really useful in helping me to think about what on earth to do with this path-to-nowhere. Dave

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  12. Lovely!! I immediately imagined small children loving the experience…imagine being in a forest of flowers! Pretending no one can see you, but you can see them. So magical for all ages! Well done!

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    • Sadly Carole, the Priory garden is a bit like the Selfish Giant’s garden. I can’t remember the last time there were young children there. Several years at least but I’m glad you like it. Dave

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  13. Ooooh, I like! I do love Six Hills Giant, but the simplicity of these beds is really pleasing. But yes, needs a gutsy focal point to balance it. A bench with an arch or pergola sounds good to me, to possibly just a really nice bench surrounded by more v. b.?! Does a bench make sense, i.e. is the view back down the path a good one?

    P.S. I am still baffled as to why v.b. doesn’t self seed for me too.

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    • Hi Janet, the view back up the path is to the car park though in time that will be obscured by new beech hedging and a beech arch. But the main problem is, as Anne points out below, that the path is really rather pointless. Though, I hope I have softened it, it still has no function. So there’s plenty for me still to dwell on. As for the VB self seeding, I did mention your problem (so to speak) in the initial draft of this post. I’m baffled too! Dave

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      • Car park huh. Sounds to me as if you need to get agreement to make that a path to a new design feature, one much larger and more interesting. I don’t suppose you could turn it in to a v.b. labyrinth or maze?! Now that would be a fun project…

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  14. Sorry – that feels very cruel when you feel you’ve almost cracked it – but isn’t that the problem? There isn’t a destination because — there isn’t a destination. I can’t see how you’re going to make that aspect of it work.

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  15. Don’t want to be difficult, but is that feature – the path, the beds, really an asset at all? I wonder why you added it ?

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    • Hi Anne (what’s with the catchy askimet name?), it’s a fair point – I don’t know why the path and bird-bath were put in. They’ve been there for years – from long before I started at the Priory. I agree that as a feature or indeed a path it makes no sense. My intention was simply to soften the impact of the runway. Originally I planned for the nepeta to flop over and hide those hard, straight lines. Many areas of the gardens need a major re-think – they suffer from no overall plan or design. I’m hopeful that one day we’ll address that. Dave

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      • Glad it wasn’t your favourite idea! (don’t know about akismet name – popped up of its own accord, maybe because I’m logged into WordPress too). You must know then that the one plant solution is masterly and a good one to choose. It doesn’t seed with me – but I assume because I mulch.
        Hard not to have design control.

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  16. I think you need to persuade the powers that be to invest in one of those intricate metal seating pergolas thingies, this would give the path a purpose and at this time of year would create an almost hidden seating area, with the lovely sound of bees.

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    • Certainly needs something, Helen. I’m at a loss as to why the path was put there in the first place, to be honest. But the garden needs far more seating areas anyway. We only have one bench! D

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  17. Lovely! Simple yet so effective. En masse, Verbena really does come up trumps. I agree, a larger focal point at the end of the path-to-nowhere will complete the (very pretty) picture.

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  18. I love the ALL Verbena beds, my garden looked a bit like that when I started as I didn’t have many other plants! An arch or arbor (with honeysuckle growing over it) might make a good focal point with a bench as a place to sit to watch the butterflies

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