THE 2007 PERENNIAL PLANT OF THE YEAR
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Each year the Perennial Plant Association, the national industry group of growers and landscapers, votes on a perennial of the year. This is a plant most feel deserves wider use and recognition nationwide. The winner for this year is ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint.
As its name indicates, it is in the mint family with square stems and aromatic leaves. My own experience, and that of others, is that this plant is much less attractive to felines than its relatives. It does, though, contain the chemical nepetalactone which is what is so attractive to cats in the true catnip species (cataria). It is attractive to other forms of wildlife such as bees and butterflies, but not rabbits and deer to which it is resistant.
The name is deceiving, as this plant is not really low. Rather, it is named for a location where it was found. Mrs. Patricia Taylor found this in an Irish garden in the 1970’s, and it was first introduced for sale to gardeners in 1988 by Four Season’s Nursery of Norwich, England. This plant can reach about three feet tall and wide, making it one of the larger catmints.
The crinkled, aromatic, silver-green leaves are about one to two inches long, with scalloped edges. The dark bluish-purple flowers are in clusters on upright, arching stems creating a rather open effect reminiscent of cottage gardens. It will begin blooming in May in the south, July in the north, and bloom for much of the season.
This plant is often thought to be a hybrid between two species (nepetella x racemosa), and is often shown as this hybrid species (x faassenii) which dates back to 1784. Other authorities just list it under one parent (racemosa). Whatever the true name, these plants originally came from the Caucasus and northern Iran. This indicates they tolerate heat and drought once established.
In fact, this perennial tolerates a range of conditions, and is low maintenance with no serious pest or disease problems. It grows best in a well-drained soil, in full sun. It will tolerate some shade in the south, but in the north it will get taller and bloom less in shade. It will tolerate some salt, so may be a good choice near walks, drives, and roads in the north. It is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8 (minimum –30 degrees F), zone 3 if snow.
In the herb garden, this plant combines well with sages, thymes, and silvery plants such as lamb’s ears. In the perennial border, place it in the front to middle with such plants as the tickseeds, peonies, pinks, foxgloves, and bearded iris. A classic combination is with roses. Also try combining it with purple-leaved sedums such as ‘Vera Jameson’, or short grasses such as blue fescues and blue oat grass.
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