What IS that purple flower? Many have inquired after seeing it on my website (www.sandybakerwriter.com). It’s Verbena rigida, a traveling, drought tolerant, long-blooming perennial. I call it the short cousin of Verbena bonariensis. If you like the look of it and think you want it in your garden, get to know it first. Some people think it’s awfully weedy, perhaps in the same category as Centranthus ruber (Jupiter’s Beard, Valerian). Well, I like that, too.
What you see in the photo is pretty much what it looks like, brilliant purple on ever-so-slightly gray-green foliage. The sparse leaves and stems demand glove-wearing–they’re rough, wiry, and hard on the hands. It could be considered a ground cover because it travels by rhizomes and will fill in the garden, sometimes bullying other plants. I like it because it does travel (and maybe throws seeds), because it takes lots of sun and little water; because it blooms for 6-7 months; because it thrives in ordinary, even poor, soil; and because it attracts butterflies. As a design element, it goes SO well with yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks; you can include it in many palettes. In the late spring, I cut it down to about three inches–and boy, does that reinvigorate it! Here in Sonoma County CA, it’s definitely a perennial; in harsher climates, it can be treated as an annual. I began with maybe a dozen 4” plants and now have a garden full of it. Unseen to the right of this photo is a 30’ row of Helianthemum nummalarium ‘Henfield Red’, a brick red sun rose. And in the spring, when the Helianthemum and Verbena are blooming, it’s a striking sight! The gray spikey grass in the rear, Helictotrichon (Blue Oat Grass), provides a nice, neutral background for the two brilliant colors together. For more gardening info, go to www.sandybakerwriter.com.