It never fails. The film that wins an Oscar for best picture is usually not well-known. I think that’s what happened with this year’s Perennial Plant of the Year. The plant that has checked all the boxes and has won this year’s highest perennial honor is Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta.
Calamintha, also known as calamint, will grow well in a wide range of climates, is low maintenance, is virtually pest and disease free, and offers interest in multiple seasons. It’s also deer resistant and pollinators love it. Seriously, it comes alive with movement from all the bees flocking to it! Sit quietly nearby a planting of calamint and you can hear it hum.
If you are familiar with catmint (Nepeta spp.), then think of calamint as a cousin. It is a member of the mint family with aromatic foliage and square stems, but it does not spread by invasive runners like the mint that comes to mind. It’s white delicate flowers are often touched with blue as they age. Calamint is one of the few perennials that has a long period of bloom - early summer into fall. It grows best in full sun up to 18 inches tall and wide.
Calamint also happens to be one of the most versatile plants when creating perennial combinations in the landscape. It’s bushy habit reminds me of a soft, white, billowy cloud which is the perfect filler plant in the landscape. One combination strategy is to plant it with vertical- growing perennials like purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), a mix of Betonys (Stachys ‘Summer Romance’ and ‘Summer Crush’), or any of the Salvias. A good partner that offers contrasting texture and will carry the interest into the fall is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. My favorite combination is calamint interplanted with the broad leaves of Allium ‘Summer Beauty’ or ‘Windy City’ and the blue grassy foliage of Festuca ‘Cool as Ice’.
When shopping for calamint, a word of caution: Be aware that some cultivars can reseed and become a problem in the garden. Look for Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, which has smooth, glossy leaves - not pubescent (soft, fuzzy) ones.
Tracy Hankwitz is a Horticulture Adjunct at Gateway Technical College and owner of Bella Botanica, LLC located at 1787 Walworth Street, Springfield, WI. All photos in this post are compliments of Midwest Groundcovers, LLC.