My Verbascum Plantation


LAST SUMMER, furry, bluish, flat-to-the-ground rosettes erupted in my backyard, creating a sort of lake effect in the sunniest section — a section that was then, and still remains, an untamed wilderness. I let the rosettes be, even though they are weeds, sort of, and easy to pull out. I wanted to see what would happen, and I had no other plans for that space.

I knew they were called mullein and recognized them from roadsides and other ‘waste places,’ as the Connecticut Botanical Society would have it, although I resent them for implying any part of my garden is a waste place.


This summer, they’ve shot to a height of 6 feet or more, sending up flowering yellow spikes. They are, properly, verbascum thapsus, a snapdragon relative, and they are biennial, forming rosettes one year, flowering the next, then going to seed and dying off. They have a long history of being used for everything from medicinal teas, yellow dye, and lamp wicks to (since they can be slightly irritating to the skin), ‘Quaker rouge.’

Clearly, they’re sun-loving, and I’m watching where they spread to determine the sunniest part of the yard — which right now appears to be a diamond-shaped space about 20 feet across and equally long.

IMG_0455I recently thought of fencing in just that area and growing whatever I damn well please there, be it tomatoes and other veggies, or roses and all the sun-loving, deer-attracting flowers I haven’t been above to make happen elsewhere in the yard. I would love to have a cutting garden; and I wouldn’t have to fence in the whole half-acre, which was going to cost about $5,000. That was one strike against the deer fence concept I’ve been ruminating over for the past two years. The other was that I haven’t been able to come to terms with the prospect of losing my uninterrupted view into the woods and replacing it with a network of posts and wire mesh.

Whether my cutting garden is a workable idea remains to be seen. I’m starting to track the hours of sunlight on paper, and I’m not sure there are really more than 3 hours even there. Meanwhile, I’ve grown to appreciate the verbascum, and if a fenced cutting garden doesn’t come together by the summer of ’12, I’ll get to see what happens next.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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3 Responses to My Verbascum Plantation

  1. Reed says:

    Cara: We just put up a deer fence around our whole property in Amagansett and it’s not so bad. The black mesh is nearly invisible unless you are up close and you can plant taller bushes to obscure some of the posts. You’re welcome to come check it out. By the way, did you get my email about rose bushes? We have some to give away to a good home and we thought you might like them.

  2. mopar says:

    Was just up in the Catskills and every plant is surrounded by mesh on little sticks. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t look too bad nor expensive.

  3. cara says:

    hi Mopar, yes, I have chicken wire around a baby Japanese maple, but who wants to look at a garden full of plants in individual cages?

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