Friday, March 5, 2010

Veronica


A woman of Jerusalem pitied Jesus as he carried his cross to crucifixion, stepped forward and wiped his face with a cloth.  Blood and sweat stained his likeness upon the napkin.  Thus, according to legend, was Christ's true image (vera eikon) preserved.  Other stories identify the woman as Berenike, possibly the woman Jesus healed of a bloody hemorrhage.  It is claimed that Berenike, for some inexplicable reason, carried the cloth to the bedside of the ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius, and cured him with it.  (Tiberius, very unpopular, was later assassinated by smothering.)

Somehow the name, Veronica, evolved from vera eikon or "Berenike" and was bestowed upon the celebrated lady.  Much later, the name was given to an herb.  I have no idea why.  Maybe the plant was discovered on Shrove Tuesday or on July 12, when St. Veronica is remembered.  Perhaps the name was given in honor of the botanist's daughter or wife.

Quite possibly the name was bestowed upon the plant because a very common species native to Europe and western Asia, Veronica officinalis, has been used medicinally to alleviate coughing.  An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica, by William Lewis (c. 1791) records that the herb was used to treat "disorders of the breast both catarrhous and ulcerous, and for purifying the blood and humours."  The use may have preceded the name and inspired the appellation.  I expect we shall never know.

Veronica is a genus of about 500 species native to the Old World as well as the New in both hemispheres.

Depending on the species, Veronica may be hardy from USDA climate zones 3 through 9.  Plant in well-drained soil with exposure to full sun.  Recommended pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.8.

Height varies, but most grow less than 12" tall.  They are excellent for ground cover, perennial borders, rock gardens, container gardens and terraces.  Some are drought-tolerant.  Veronica attracts butterflies, too.  Deer and rabbits tend to leave most species alone.

Prepare the planting bed for Veronica by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8" deep. Compost may be incorporated into the soil. Synthetic fertilizers may be used. To best determine your soil's needs, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for testing for a small fee.

Container-grown Veronica can be planted any time you have a trowel handy, but will require monitoring of soil moisture levels during hot weather to avoid plant stress.  Take care not to water too much.  Let soil dry between waterings.

Space plants 12" to 24" apart. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill.  Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" to 4" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. Veronica plants have few pest and disease problems, but they aren't immune. The best preventative is to maintain vigorous plants in a healthy environment.  Over-watering can be the death of them.

Whether you collect plants for beauty, their history, attractiveness to butterflies or herbal properties, Veronica should be included in your garden.  With so many species to consider, it's likely that you can find one just right for you.

Return to Veronica at goGardenNow.com.

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