Colin Mills, compiler of the Hortus Camdenensis, died in late November 2012 after a short illness. As he always considered the Hortus his legacy, it is his family's intention to keep the site running in perpetuity. It will not, however, be updated in the near future.

Verbena x hybrida Hort. ex Vilm.

A race of bedding verbenas, derived primarily from Verbena teucrioides, V. incisa, V. peruviana and V. phlogifera, developed in the mid-19th century.  They are erect and bushy, or spreading and mat-forming perennials, usually grown as annuals, with tight panicles of tiny, white, pink, red, yellow or purple-blue flowers, usually with a white eye, in summer and autumn.  To 45cm.  [RHSD].  The many varieties referred to here are most likely to be of this race. 

Horticultural & Botanical History

‘I am a great lover of the Verbena, and to no flower are our gardeners more indebted for gaiety and brilliance of colour than to this little favourite.  The sorts already in cultivation are numerous and beautiful.’  [Gard. Chron. March, 1845]. Florist’s verbena: ‘Pips round, free from notch; substance thick, fine texture; truss large, pips edge to edge, not less than thirteen in a bunch; colour very dense or bright, and all the pips alike.’  [FC p.9/1848].  A late addition to the florist’s armoury the verbena was embraced with enthusiasm.  Many named cultivars were produced in the mid to late 19th century, propagated by cutting to retain their specific characteristics.  ‘The genus Verbena displays to those who delight in witnessing and recording the improvements effected by earnest zeal and well-directed attention, another instance of the immense advances made in the cause of horticulture within a very late period.  The advance to perfection of this family has been so quickly, and, we had almost said, thoroughly brought about, that the merit appears to be due solely to the present race of horticulturalists, men who are still pursuing the course which has been attended with such pleasing results in the case before us.  Verbenas are flowers that were almost unknown to our grandfathers, and even as late as 1836 the late respected Mr. Loudon, after describing about a dozen species that are now utterly discarded, terms it a ‘weedy genus’, of which only Aubletia and Lambertii were worth attention.  The additions that were made through the succeeding four or five years was astonishing, as we find, in 1840, upwards of forty species enumerated; but even this increase of the genus falls into comparative nothingness when we think of what has been done by British cultivators; for we now have before us a list, containing the names of above two hundred species and varieties: in fact, the whole family has become so ductile by frequent hybridising and crossing, that the usual treatment has almost merged into that of half-hardy annuals.’  [Br.Fl. p.41/1844].

The latter comment seems prescient.  The introduction of strains easily grown as biennials or even annuals, and that gave a wide variety of colour forms from seed, led to the slow disappearance of the named clones and very few remain.  But for several decades the verbena was both a popular garden flower and exhibition flower.  ‘This pretty flower is not only one of the most valuable for the flower-garden, but a very interesting and increasingly popular one for exhibition.  In making choice selections for these objects, the principal considerations are very different.  For the first named purpose, those which are brilliant and decided in their colours appear most hardy, and so compact in their growth that, as the plant spreads over the ground, it forms a close and even surface of green.  The object in view, however, with those who grow for show, is not so much the colour and habit as the form; indeed, as they are now exhibited in stands of cut blooms, habit has there no part in the question.  There can be no doubt the correct and best way to exhibit the Verbena as a florist’s flower is in stands of cut blooms, but kinds more adapted for garden ornament should be shown in pots, and trained over a wire trellis so as fully to develop their manner of growth.’  [FC p.29/1849].

The still-popular garden verbena, although directly descended from the plants described here, does not conform to the florist’s ideal of a rounded form and no doubt the Victorian florist would consider the modern flower to be quite inferior in type.  ‘Hitherto, the greatest fault in the Verbena as a show-flower is the unevenness and unequal expansion of the trusses, and the narrow segments and deep notches in the flower.  It will be seen, therefore, the improvements necessary to correct this, and bring the flower up to the florist’s standard, are, wider segments, of nearly equal size, and rounded at the ends as much as possible; so that, by laying close together, they form a circle.  The truss should have all the flowers arranged close and regular, but not crowded or overlapping each other; the whole forming a half globe, the rounder and more even the better.  Looking at the improvements which the last few years has brought forth, we may anticipate soon to have varieties closely approaching the circle, and entirely free from the notch.’  [FC p.30/1849].  Of the flowers grown at Camden Park it is likely that a number approached the florist’s ideal, for example Barker’s ‘Saint Margaret’ is described in this article as one of the first of the improved verbenas, with widened lobes, more appropriate for the show bench.  The Floricultural Cabinet figures ‘Souvenir de Jane Hanson, raised by Mr. P. F. Croft, of Philadelphia: ‘It is of first rate excellence.  Its form is nearly a complete circle, edges without notch, and surface nearly even, slightly cupping to the outside. […] Every successive season we have additional beauties, as well as a closer approximation to perfection in form, in this most valuable and lovely genus.  So universally are our gardens ornamented with Verbenas, that were they now to become extinct we should have a vacancy that no other plant we possess could adequately make up for such a deficiency.’    [FC p.205/1854].

History at Camden Park

Listed in the 1850 and 1857 catalogues [A.63/1850].  In addition to the named varieties for which information is given here, Macarthur ordered seed of ‘the newest and best named flowers’ from Warner & Warner, Seedsmen and Florists, Cornhill, on 12th April 1846 [MP A2933-1, p.131].  On the 8th of April he also placed an order for mixed seed of Verbena and seed of ‘8 choice kinds’ from Hurst and MacMullen, Seedsmen and Florists, London [MP A2933-1, p.132].  Ten unspecified varieties of Verbena were also obtained from the Sydney Botanic Garden on 17th October 1853.  [RBGS AB].


Published Jan 30, 2009 - 04:47 PM | Last updated Aug 01, 2010 - 03:14 PM

Family Verbenaceae
Region of origin

Garden origin, England and Europe

  • Verbena x hortensis Hort.


Common Name

Florists’ Verbena

Name in the Camden Park Record

Verbena many varieties

Confidence level high