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Dark Eyes Verbascum Is a Small Mullein for Gardens

Virtues: Verbascum 'Dark Eyes' is a striking plant in both flower and leaf, with textural leaves that form a compact rosette and dense spikes of grape-centered yellow flowers. A dwarf hybrid, it grows just 12 inches tall (in bloom) and wide, a fraction of the size of many other hybrid verbascum and the large, naturalized common mullein (V. thapsus), familiar to many from roadsides and sites disturbed for construction. Verbascum 'Dark Eyes''s good manners, compact stature and impressive summer blooms make it a candidate for the front of the border or containers, and the flowers attract butterflies.


Common name: 'Dark Eyes' verbascum or mullein

Botanical name: Verbascum 'Dark Eyes'

Exposure: Full sun

Flowers: Yellow-petaled flowers with deep red-purple centers line densely branched, upright spikes beginning in early to midsummer. The flowers bring the plant's overall height to 12 inches when it blooms. Deadheading will prolong the bloom season. The spikes also work very well as cut flowers.

Foliage: The leaves of 'Dark Eyes' mullein are deep green with a bit of a silver cast. Highly textured, they have a quilted appearance. The leaves are large and broad. 

Habit: This plant grows as a low, tight rosette of foliage, with the summer flowers rising from its center. The leafy rosette reaches 8 inches tall and 10 inches wide, with the flowers adding another 5 or 6 inches to the plant's height in bloom.

Origin: 'Dark Eyes' is a hybrid verbascum developed by Terra Nova Nurseries.

How to grow it: Site this plant in full sun and dry or moderately moist soil. It needs good drainage, including over the winter. Allow the soil to dry between waterings, and be aware that too much water can cause verbascum to rot. Do not feed this plant; or if you feel you must, stick to a light application of slow-release fertilizer in early spring; over-fertilizing can lead to floppy growth and other problems. Deadhead regularly to prompt continued bloom through later summer and prevent unwanted seeding. 

On the other hand, leaving a couple flower spikes to go to seed can extend the life of the planting, as this is considered a short-lived perennial. Since this is a hybrid plant, seedlings may not look true to the parent. Verbascum seed (including that of weedy common mullein) typically stays near the parent plant (within three feet), rather than being dispersed over long distances, so any volunteers will likely appear in the vicinity of the original planting. That said, volunteer 'Dark Eyes' seedlings can easily be transplanted to a preferred location in early spring. Verbascum seed requires light to germinate, so if seedlings are desired be aware that the application of mulch will prevent them. USDA Zones 5–9.

Image courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries