Few groups of plants epitomize the qualities of delicate color in the summer garden better than the catmints, a group that embraces several genera, including Nepeta and Calamintha. Although I periodically abandon pastels to explore the hues on the wild side of the spectrum, more often than not I am held spellbound by gentle schemes of silvers, grays, soft blues, and pearly pinks in which the catmints play a pivotal role. The usual objection to these cool compositions that they are numbingly dull doesn’t carry much weight once you’ve seen a high-summer swarm of bees buzzing in a blue haze of Nepeta xfaassenii, By attracting bees and butterflies in such numbers, the catmints lend the garden both a quality of movement and an air of drama. In addition, these plants often pick up the pace just when the garden begins to falter, continuing as a strong presence until the first sharp frosts of autumn.
As a rule, the catmints thrive on neglect. Full sun and a sandy, porous soil are best, although they will tolerate rich soils if they are well drained. Among their admirable traits are their longevity and their clumping nature–they seldom, if ever, need division or rejuvenation. Nor is self-sowing a problem, with the exception of the calaminthas. The commonly cultivated selections are hardy to USDA Zone 3, giving most North Americans the opportunity to give them a try. (more…)