Plant of the month – Nepeta (Catmint)

This may not be the showiest of flowers when competing with roses, paeonies and delphiniums etc, but Catmint definitely gets the award for best supporting role. It provides a long abundant season of, usually, lavender blue flowers from late spring to late summer and is the perfect plant for an English country garden. The aromatic, grey-green foliage and spikes of soft blue compliment and bring out the best of so many other colours in the garden, so it is an excellent choice for classically underplanting roses, adding to mixed borders, or using as an informal edging along pathways.

This tough, reliable perennial is easy to grow and is tolerant of many situations, from sun to partial shade, as well as dry or moist soils, so it is useful for adding to difficult areas in the garden. Catmint also makes it a good substitute for Lavender, which prefers the native Mediterranean conditions of a dry, well drained and sunny aspect. Not only is it deer and rabbit resistant, it is also a perfect pollinator and regularly attracts bees and other insects; on a warm summer’s days a clump can quite literally be heard buzzing. One drawback is that it also is a big temptation for cats, who go crazy when they roll around in the leaves. This can be frustrating when trying to get a patch established, but a few short sticks inserted around the plants will deter the feline revellers and they will soon be hidden by new growth.

There are over 250 different varieties of Catmint but here are some of the best and more easily available:

Nepeta faassenii ‘Six Hill Giant’ as the name implies is one of the larger varieties growing to 90cm, this can make it a bit leggy and thin in the middle, so try staking it, or it responds well to the Chelsea Chop (cutting back a third of new growth to encourage shorter later flowering).

Nepeta racemose ‘Walker’s Low’ very similar to ‘Six Hill Giant’ but slightly shorter, growing to 60cm.

Nepeta grandiflora ‘Summer Magic’ this is a shorter more upright variety growing to 45cm, a great choice for lining a pathway.

Nepeta x faassenii ‘Kit-Kat’ perfect for smaller gardens, this dwarf variety only grows to 30cm and form neat round mounds.

Nepeta nuda a tall upright cultivar that is good for mid to back of border schemes. The pale lilac flowers are superb mixed with grasses and asters.

Originally published in Focus magazine

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