Catmint, though never a centre-stage, star performer would win prizes for its supporting roles. Always dependable and always delightful, this hardy herbaceous perennial brings joy in a subtle and relatively subdued way for many months every year. More extrovert, flashier flowers burn up and out in a fraction of that time.
In spring, dense mounds of aromatic, grey-green, scallop edged leaves rise up. In time, their lengthening wiry stems finish in loose spikes of light blue flowers. Individually beautiful, they are too small to take note of. It is, however, the overall effect they create that is quietly enchanting. Growing up to three feet high and easily as much across, they create the wonderful form, feel and fullness of Lavender, which in our wetter, northern climate is difficult to create and maintain in the real thing.
They begin their long display through the ‘June Gap,’ a difficult period to populate with bloom as spring flowers have mostly faded and the main flow of summer flowers is yet to come. For two full months they continue, then just as the first show begins to fade, new shoots push through and fresh flowers take over, rejuvenating the display until autumn brings all to a close. Tidy minded gardeners will shear the plants right back after the first flush to clear space for the second. While those with a more relaxed approach enjoy seeing the old growth naturally covered in time by the new.
Undemanding, though preferring sun and well drained soil, these tough plants give good service year after year. Minimal maintenance is simply the shearing off, rolling up and removal of the faded tangle of fibrous stems before new growth emerges in spring. Their lax, sprawling habit makes them ideal for edging along paths, steps and driveways where they can spill out to soften hard edges.
Bees and butterflies love this long lasting nectar source, bringing areas where it is used to life on warm afternoons and evenings. Cats apparently love it just a little too much. They get ‘high’ on its aromatic oils and often roll in ecstasy on the plants, squashing or even shredding them in their excitement. Fortunately, here at Levens, untroubled by our feline friends uncalled for attention, this humble performer thrives and for a 100 yards or more, borders the ancient bowling green in subtle and long lasting style.
Chris Crowder is head gardener at Levens Hall
Jobs to do this week:
If away on holiday for a few days, place potted plants in a shady corner. Any longer and you will need someone to water them from time to time.
Summer prune trained fruit trees such as espaliers and cordons.
Where perennials have flopped out over paths or other plants, cut them back and regain some order in the garden.