Sometimes it's just hard to improve on the best. Such is the case with the 'Homestead Purple' verbena.
For more than 20 years it has stood the test of time as the verbena to which all others are compared. It is still a sea of purple that is dazzling in the spring paired with daffodils, or in front of forsythia or spirea.
You'll also notice that 'Homestead Purple' is not overcome by disease, and produces hundreds of the largest blossoms you will see in verbenas. It got its fame in Georgia courtesy of the quick eyes of Allan Armitage and Michael Dirr, both renowned horticulturists with the University of Georgia. Not only was it a Georgia Gold Medal Winner but has been similarly honored throughout the United States.
A lot of other verbenas have tried to tag on to the name but they are not the same. This is simply the best there is. It is perennial in zones 6-10, meaning most of the country can rejoice in its beauty. Even if you live in a colder zone you can still grow it as an annual that will be the showiest plant in your flower border.
I was shooting pictures of it at the Columbus Botanical Garden this week, and I kept noticing visiting swallowtails, hummingbird or sphinx moths, and an assortment of bees. You can't beat that for an early spring day.
To have the most success, select a site in full sun with well-drained soil. Soggy, winter soil is the enemy that can prevent a spring return. In February we have over 12 inches of rain but the raised beds were able to move the water away. Plant nursery-grown transplants this spring at the same depth they are growing in the container, spacing 12 to 18 inches apart. Water to get them established, but then sparingly, depending on the weather.
The verbena responds to feeding every four to six weeks with a light application of a slow-release, 12-6-6 fertilizer. Just as important as feeding is cutting back to rejuvenate vegetative growth and produce more blooms. This verbena rewards those who cut back. Leaving all the old stems because of four or five flowers will hurt the verbena and make the gardener unhappy with this great plant.
With the flower color being a royal violet think about yellow or white for your companion plants. I've already mention spirea and forsythia for nearby shrubs. As it get established it will allow you to design beds with an assortment of daffodils or yellow tulips for an absolutely stunning show. They are also outstanding in mixed baskets and containers. You could hardly pick a better plant to cascade over a window box.
You could fill up a table just with the new verbena series showing up in the market since 'Homestead Purple' made its debut. Each series probably boasts five or six colors, and even some of those are multi-colored. But the verbena that is still the best and beats out the rest is 'Homestead Purple.' Plant some this spring.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.