Get a bearded donkey for your garden

In ancient Rome growing on the dusty hillsides was a very special plant. This plant was one of the first plants to be grown commercially for non-food reasons. It grew in the poor soil and from its stem you could make something which was in high demand.

If you were a Roman candlemaker you needed a wick. The wicks were made from the dried stems of this plant and this created a good business for these early commercial growers. The Romans’ named this plant ‘Barbascum’. ‘Barbascum’ means ‘The Bearded One’, because as well as making fantastic wicks – it was covered in hair.

Fast forward to 2008.

The Royal Horticultural Society Committee sits in heated discussion about which plants to give their highest accolade – The Award of Garden Merit. Amongst the contenders is a plant which has its origins in Ancient Rome and was grown for candlewicks. The name of this plant is no longer the latin ‘Barbascum’ but the anglicised version – ‘Verbascum’
In front of the Committee sits a Verbascum from a seedling selected by the great plantsman Christopher Lloyd, and grown in his garden ‘Great Dixter’. Christopher has named his new plant ‘Christo’s Yellow Lightening’.

Many years before, Christopher had been travelling in Turkey and was shown much help and kindness by a Turkish lad, whose donkey was named ‘White Lightening’.  Unfortunately Christopher’s incredible Verbascum was yellow and not white. Nevertheless, determined to show his gratitude, the closest he could get to the donkey’s name was ‘Yellow Lightening’.

After much deliberation, in the summer of 2008 the names of the winners of the RHS AGM (gardening Oscars) were published. Amongst the winners, it read “VERBASCUM CHRISTO’S YELLOW LIGHTENING”.

The ‘Bearded One’ from a Roman hillside, named after a Turkish donkey, had received the ultimate prize.
I love this piece of plant history and suggest ‘Verbascum Christo’s Yellow Lightening’ is worthy of a place in your garden.

Christo's Yellow Lightning grows to be 6-8 feet tall and has a spread of about 2 feet.

This is not a plant for small gardens and has significant presence in the garden not just because of its stature but also its colour and long flowering period which can last for about 8 weeks. This is a reliable perennial which will produce a fantastic yellow torch in the garden year on year!


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