Beard-tongue and Mullein

Sounding more like mythical beasts than the slender plant forms they describe, these common names are almost as splendid as their subjects.

Verbascum chaixii Album

Another spire from one of the Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’, or white nettle-leaved mullein, which germinated so well last autumn, has burst into flower.

Verbascum chaixii Album flowers

I am relieved that I seem to be forgiven for hampering their growth in the spring when I abandoned the seedlings in small pots for too long before planting out.

Verbascum chaixii Album flowers

From a distance the white spires of these short-lived perennials are beautiful enough, but it is the detail of their flowers that really captures my heart: I adore the furry purple filaments that reach out from the crisp white petals, like pipe cleaners, each adorned with an orange anther. (Somehow, these stamens always put me in mind of a Muppet – the mullein muppet, perhaps?)

Verbascum chaixii Album, Penstemon Blackbird and Salvia patens

They form a wonderful contrast with another favourite that has just emerged nearby: Penstemon Blackbird. Splashes of deep blue from Salvia patens (gentian sage) complete the picture.

Penstemon Blackbird and Salvia patens

The penstemon was a division from my mum’s garden, that I planted in the top border a few months’ ago; it must be my favourite penstemon.

dark plum red-purple Penstemon Blackbird flowers

I love the rich wine-coloured flowers with their gently speckled white throats. Their common name, beard-tongue, is another reference (like the official name, penstemon) to the tufted fifth stamen which protrudes from these flowers (pente = 5, stemon = stamen).

Both of these late-blooming plants enrich the early autumn tapestry of the garden; and they seem to make fine bed-fellows too.

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19 thoughts on “Beard-tongue and Mullein

  1. I love the old English names: “Mullein” somehow conjures up images of Shakespeare, 16th century England, wassailing, etc. But those flowers are stunning – in close-up they rival any orchid. Just imagine what they would be like if the floers were as big as those on a Hollyhock!

  2. Thanks for the education, particularly about the penstemon – I didn’t know about the ‘beard tongue’ or that it’s name comes from the stamen features. I like that sort of info, so keep it coming!! Just read your ‘About’ for the first time – intirigued to hear about your building and renovation work and gradual venturing out to sort out the garden as that’s how it started for us too.

    • I love to collect random facts on plants, especially regarding their names. My school Latin can be put to use at last! 🙂
      Nice that you’ve been going through the same process as us, shaping the garden after a full-on assault of the house. It can be exhausting can’t it, but somehow a few hours escape to work in the garden makes everything better…

      • The full-on assault is pretty much in the dim and distant past now, and it’s hard to imagine how we managed to do all that work AND go out to work at the same time. That we did everything ourselves makes the place all the more precious to us, and the same with the garden of course – no doubt you feel the same

        • Yes it was a hard place to be, we did as much of the work ourselves as we could while working full time too, but once the dust has mostly settled it does make the house – and garden – feel like so much a part of you when you know every inch by heart. Still bits and pieces to finish off, that we’re now getting around to slowly…

  3. I really must try some seed of these. Verbascum grow wild here, so they should stand the drought! They aren’t any white ones in the wild though, so they would be rather choice. I like the idea od a Muppet. Christina

    • That’s a good question ;). It seems to be sold as a short-lived perennial, somewhere between the two, apparently it should gently self-seed. It certainly germinated easily from seed for me last autumn – more than I could possibly plant out – and I really recommend it!

  4. Oh wow. That is a stunning verbascum – does it need staking? Maybe I could buy some seed, not that I was intending to sow any more seed just yet, but oh my… And the penstemon is a perfect partner for it, You had me and my gardening-mad sister-in-law drawling over these two beauties!

    • Isn’t it pretty? It doesn’t seem to need staking even in our winds, but is quite short as Verbascums go – maybe three feet tall? Seed is readily available and germinates well 😉 The penstemon is fabulous too; I love it when something comes into bloom and makes a combination even better than it was in my head.

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