Defying Gravity

Simon Crawford/Happiness garden - Click to Enlarge

Simon Crawford collects extremely rare plants, both wild and tame, around the world. From the high mountains of Nepal to the obscure markets of Europe to the botanical gardens of faraway South America, he tracks down new and interesting meadow plants as well as historic old cultivars from discarded breeding programs of companies that have long since closed. A bit like the old song collectors who travelled through Europe and the UK in the 19th century and the Lomaxes (father and son) who did the same in America in the 20th. Our relationship with Simon goes back to the mid 1980s. He runs all of our collection programs in the UK.

Simon Crawford/Happiness garden - Click to Enlarge

Here he has come across, not a rare plant, but an “unusually great” specimen of Verbascum thapsus—not in an exotic locate, but in the Happiness Garden here at our main research gardens just outside Philadelphia. It’s been a terrible season for most vegetables. However, it’s been a fantastic year for flowering plants.

Simon Crawford/Happiness garden - Click to Enlarge

Fordhook Farm is the new (since 2006) headquarters for Heronswood rare plant research and adaptation. It encompasses 15 gardens on a 60 acre estate that was once the home of the Burpee family as well as the site of the oldest continuously operated private research garden in all of horticulture. But now our emphasis includes trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and many other perennials as well as vegetables, herbs and annual flowers for Burpee and The Cook’s Garden. Our next Open House is Friday and Saturday, August 21 and 22. Please mark your calendars.

Simon Crawford/Happiness garden - Click to Enlarge

Simon is about 5′ 11″, so that puts this extraordinary mullein (in this unusual growing season) at well over 10 feet tall. This photograph was taken on July 14th, and the spire extended even a few inches higher until the nights began to cool as well as lengthen. Since perennials have extraordinarily fine senses to day-length, or sunlight quantity and quality, the “little fellow” as I call him finally lost verticality about six days ago. Now he bends, having lost just the amount of energy required to hold himself straight up.

It takes a lot to defy gravity, especially as you begin to lose your “food supply” at the same time your many young seeds that you carry around your sides begin maturing.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 6th, 2009 at 7:25 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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9 Responses to “Defying Gravity”

  1. Sue said:

    I was a bit surprised by your comment about it being a good year for flowering plants. We here in Northern Virginia have been wondering what has happened to some of our best flowering trees, the crepe myrtles whose blooms have been a bit sparse this year. We wondered if it had anything to do with the die-back of bees.

  2. greenmoss said:

    Loved your mullein!

    I was amused by you calling it “little fellow” since “he” has been busy producing seeds all summer, as well as pollen. My daughter, when she was quite young, started add “or her” when I indiscriminately called living things “he” and now either “it” or “himmerher” is di rigueur in our family.

  3. Lois Cutting said:

    I used to see tall mulleins in the cow pasture
    and thought they were just weeds. They always
    grew quite tall but not as tall as in the pictures you have shown in this e-mail.


  4. b kessler said:

    My wild mullens have all died. Maybe too much water. My summer squash (Burpee seeds) is truly delicious. It looks like half zuchinni and half acorn. The flavor is sweet and nutty. I grill it with shallots and olive oil.. Wow – and thankyou

  5. Fran Passik said:

    I am 77 and handicapped by a broken hip, but I still love planting on my terrace and in my kitchen window, which is VERY sunny. I truly enjoy your plants and your very knowledgable blog. I learn a lot from them. Thank you.

  6. Linda Crawford said:

    That is an incredible plant!!! If I were in your part of the USA I certainly would go to the open house.

  7. Joyce Holzinger said:

    What an amazing plant. I’m adding a visit to your research center to my “Bucket List” of places to experience, I live in Mankato MN so it will be awhile. I so enjoy the Heronswood site

  8. Marshall Smyth said:

    Here in northern Lake County California we have a wild Mullein that grows along the shore of Lake Pillsbury. It looks similar to those you have pictured only not that tall. More like 7 or 8 feet, but with thicker stems. Ours don’t defy gravity as spectacularly, but after dying they stand for almost a year. Probably another local plant that could be grown more. These are biennial, and their first year rosettes are nice fuzzy grey-green. Simon Crawford has a truly dream job! He’s probably been in this area searching plants, It’s a treasure trove of plants here! Late January to late June is like an ever changing natural display of flowers. Our wild Heuchera varies in leaf colorations and flower and stem colors. This is evolution central for Scrophulariaceae; snowflowers of several kinds, some kind of lousewort that makes one flower bloom at a time that seems very to extremely rare, and another more common kind; a very small red to magenta monkey flower, a nice stalky yellow one, and those, what are they(?) that make a little candlelabra and then disappear-poof…not kiddin! Oh, and the Mariposa Tulips!!! I think I see 3 genera of them. Lupines of many kinds, but I really enjoy those itty bitty subminiature yellow ones that I don’t think count as clover. Aigh.

  9. Diana said:

    I gathered seeds from a Verbascum thapsus growing in a river bottom. It’s flowers are at least half again larger than usual. Both of the plants had many branches covered with blossoms. Of course, I know that means I will be having them come up all over for the next 100 years, but it was worth it.
    To see 3 pictures of this plant click here:

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