Tag Archive: perennial

Herbaceous borders at Peckover House, Wisbech
Herbaceous borders at Peckover House, Wisbech

Now’s the time to set about creating new borders in your garden and I’m grateful to Hyde N. Seik from Plymouth who asks:

‘I’ve seen some wonderful borders at a National Trust property near me. I enquired about these and was told that they are ‘herbaceous borders’. Can you tell me what this means and how to go about creating one, please?’

Hyde, there’s perhaps nothing as quintessentially English as an Herbaceous border (it became especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th century garden), and many of those associated with our great historic houses are some of the best examples around. This is usually a rectangular border (or twin borders with a lawn or other path running between them), traditionally at least 3 metres wide and about 12 metres long, usually backed by an evergreen hedge. The lengths and widths do vary, but the usual dimensions maintain a ratio of 4:1 (length to depth). The border is planted entirely with herbaceous perennials (plants that grow for more than one year and die back above ground after flowering). The border is designed to be of interest when viewed from the front or along its length and looks its best from late spring to late summer.

These days the amount of work needed to maintain such borders – staking of taller plants to provide support, pruning back dead stems and foliage, feeding and dividing the plants every few years- might be too much for many gardeners and so herbaceous borders can be rather smaller and more irregular in shape, or alternatively have a mixture of planting (including evergreen shrubs, grasses, and annuals) to reduce the workload and provide more structural interest during the winter.

Herbaceous borders are usually planted with clusters of each type of plant, in odd numbered groups of 3, 5 or 7 plants- the tallest are usually at the back of the border and the shortest at the front. However, in recent times this approach has been challenged as borders can look more interesting if some taller plants are placed nearer the front of the border; especially if they add height but are not too dominant, such as Verbena bonariensis and many grasses.

The airy stems of Verbena bonariensis
The airy stems of Verbena bonariensis

As your plants are likely to be in the same place for some time, it pays to prepare the soil thoroughly. Remove all weeds, especially the perennial types with deep roots, by digging, hoeing (or you could use a suitable weedkiller such as Glyphosate in the growing season). Then fork the soil to a depth of at least 150mm adding organic matter such as compost or manure, rotted bark, or other manures such as those from hops or mushroom growing. Lime might also be needed if the soil is very acid (peaty) or in generally very poor condition.

This should be applied in autumn or spring, one month before planting or adding organic material, and at least 2-3 months before adding manure (lime and manure should never be applied at the same time). Incidentally, nearly all herbaceous perennials grow well in most soil types, provided they are neither very acidic or alkaline- by manuring and liming regularly, the soil can be kept at a fairly neutral pH, and regular mulching with organic matter will keep the soil nutrient levels up, avoiding the need for artificial fertilisers or feeds.

If possible, leave the freshly dug soil for a couple of months to allow it to settle, then rake over the surface to produce a reasonably fine, crumbly surface.

Whilst you’re waiting for the soil to be readied it’s worth planning the border planting in some detail. Using a sheet of graph paper, draw on it (to scale) the shape of the border (you could of course have begun with an outline plan on paper for this and then scaled this up to create the new border). Then select your plants from a catalogue, book or online information resource which not only describes the plants but gives their height and ultimate spread/width. Think about the different flower shapes, leaf textures as well as colours in composing your border planting plan and also when the plants flower or have other interest (e.g. leaf colour, berries or other fruit) – to ensure a balanced spread of flowering or other interest throughout the seasons.

Allow for the plants to be grouped in clumps of 3’s or 5’s (odd numbers tend to create informal looking groups whereas even numbers tend to lead to a more formal, regimented layout). These groups can be drawn on your plan with a circle guide or compasses and then a line enclosing the group drawn around them. If you use a set of colour pencils or crayons to draw these groups according to their flower/leaf colour it will help give you an idea of the colour scheme you are creating. Other information – height, flowering time etc.- can be written on your plan and help to check the overall design and ensure that there is no period in the year without interest of some sort (this can extend to winter interest created from strong shapes such as evergreens and grasses as well as some herbaceous plants that hold on to their dead flower heads or foliage).

The best time to plant your herbaceous border is in the autumn or spring, although plants grown in containers can be planted at any time, provided they are kept well watered and the ground is not frozen or flooded. If you buy by mail order, the nursery will send you plants at the right time for planting, although the roots will probably have little or no soil on them (‘bare rooted’). If you can’t get them planted on arrival, store them in a cool place in damp, sandy soil or put them in a trench in the garden (so called ‘heeling in’). However, do try to plant them out as quickly as possible provided the ground is workable.

If the plants seem dry on arrival, soak the roots in water for 24 hours; if any are damaged in transit, let the nursery know as soon as possible, so that they can be replaced.

Herbaceous border at Copped Hall, Essex
Herbaceous border at Copped Hall, Essex

Planting is best done with a trowel. Set the plants out in the planting positions on the soil surface and then move them around to make sure they are in line with your plan which should suit their final growing widths. Dig holes under each plants big enough to accommodate the roots of the plant without cramping them. Work from the back of the border (or centre if it is an island bed). Always plant to the same depth as the soil mark on the stems of the plants.

Hoe carefully to remove footmarks, and water in the plants with a thorough but gentle sprinkling. Don’t forget to label each group of plants, as once they die down you may forget where they were – though your reference plan should help with this. Most herbaceous perennials will spread outwards, gradually dying off from the original centre, so every few years these plants will need dividing, repositioning and mulching. And some of the taller ones will need staking to support them, at least in the early years before those around them provide some mutual support.

Old School Gardener

Yucca aloifolia flowers

Yucca aloifolia flowers

A genus of about 40 species of perennial evergreen shrubs or trees, Yucca is rosette-forming or woody- based and comes from hot, dry places such as deserts. sand dunes and plains in north and central America and the West Indies. It is also colloquially known in the Midwest United States as “ghosts in the graveyard”, as it is commonly found growing in rural graveyards and when in bloom the cluster of (usually pale) flowers on a thin stalk appear as floating apparitions. So striking are these flowers that early settlers of the south-western United States called them “Lamparas de Dios” or “Lanterns of God”. 

A member of the Agavae family, the yucca is closely related to the lily and has its origins in Mexico and Central America where it was prized by indigenous peoples for the medicinal and nutritional properties of the yucca flower.

North American natives, too, found the plant useful, using it to make clothing and soap (yucca roots are rich in saponins).

Cultivated for their bold, linear to lance shaped leaves and their erect (sometimes pendent) panicles of, usually white bell-shaped flowers. Many species also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds,flowers, flowering stems and more rarely roots. References to yucca root as food often stem from confusion with the similarly pronounced, but botanically unrelated, yuca, also called cassava (Manihot esculenta).

They tolerate a range of conditions, but are best grown in full sun in subtropical or mild temperate areas. In gardening centres and horticultural catalogues they are usually grouped with other architectural plants such as Cordylines and Phormiums.

Joshua trees

(Yucca brevifolia) are protected by law in some American states. A permit is needed for wild collection. As a landscape plant, they can be killed by excessive water during their summer dormant phase, so are avoided by landscape contractors.

Several species of yucca can be grown outdoors in mild temperate climates where they are protected from frost. These include:-

Y. filamentosa

Y. flaccida

Y. gloriosa

y. recurvifolia

Yuccas are widely grown as architectural plants providing a dramatic accent to landscape design. They can be used as specimen plants in courtyards or borders and in frost prone areas can be grown in a cool or temperate greenhouse or conservatory. Pollination and proper yucca care are necessary for the formation of these flowers on indoor plants.

Be careful to site them away from paths or other places people could be scratched by their sharp leaves. Free-draining soil and sun is all yuccas require.They are fully frost hardy to frost tender and can be propagated by seed sown in spring. Rooted suckers can also be removed in spring and root cuttings can be taken in the autumn. They can be susceptible to leaf spot and aphid attack.

Yucca guatemalensis (syn Yucca elephantipes)

Yucca guatemalensis (syn Yucca elephantipes)

Further Information:


Yucca filamentosa- RHS guide

How to Grow Yucca

Yucca Care

Yucca- Plant Encyclopedia

Old School Gardener

Watsonia-close-upA genus of around 60 species of perennials, Watsonia (‘Bugle Lilies’) are usually found on rocky or grassy slopes and plateux in South Africa and Madagascar.

Most are plants typical of the fynbos area in south Africa, adapted to a Mediteranean -type climate, but some occur along the eastern and inland areas of the country and have adapted to a wider range of conditions, mainly a continental climate with summer rainfall. Many species occur mainly in the mountains, though some occur in sandy flats and marshy areas.Watsonia species were introduced as garden ornamentals to Australia in the mid-19th century and were widely grown by the 1940s.

The genus is named after Sir William Watson, an 18th century Brtiish botanist. Growing from corms, they have erect, usually sword- shaped leaves at the base and are grown for their spikes of tubular flowers in shades of red, orange, pink or white. Stems grow to between 1.2 and 1.7 metres tall. Watsonia flowers for up to 4-5 weeks in spring, which makes it a really interesting plant for perennial borders.

They have an erect growing habit, do not need any staking or support and have blooms that add a ‘zing’ to a garden for weeks on end!

The plants are a little tender, so can only be grown successuflly in places with little or no frost, or alternatively in a greenhouse or conservatory. Spring and summer growing varieties can be grown outdoors in a border and then lifted in the autumn and brought under cover for the winter. They can also be grown in containers.

The most commonly cultivated species is the pink-flowered Watsonia borbonica and its white mutant ‘Arderne’s White’. These were crossed with Watsonia meriana and other species in the early 20th century by breeders in Australia and in California to produce a wide range of cultivars. Watsonia has been eclipsed in popularity by Gladiolus and other bulbs, and is now largely neglected by the nursery industry.

Under glass they should be grown in a loam-based compost with added sharp sand and leaf mould, in full sun. They should be watered freely when in growth and liquid fertiliser perhaps added every month. Outdoors they can be grown in light, well drained soil that does not dry out in summer. A dry mulch can help protect against frost during the winter.

Further information:

Plant profile- Watsonia

Growing Watsonia

Watsonia on Tresco, Isles of Scilly

RHS- Watsonia pillansii

Old School Gardener

Verbascum 'Kynaston'

Verbascum ‘Kynaston’

A genus of over 350 species, Verbascums are native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. Most of the species are biennial, though there are some annuals, perennials and sub shrubs and a few evergreens.

The perennials are often short-lived, dying after flowering, though they (like all species) are prolific self seeders. Verbascums mostly grow on open scrubland or dry hillsides, though some are found in open woodland. They like a sunny position with sharply drained soil.

Verbascums generally form a basal clump or rosette of leaves, these usually being large, soft and simple in shape, some with lobed or toothed edges. They produce one or a few spikes of flowers- these are densely packed and with saucer-shaped flowers. The flowers are individually short-lived, but are borne successively over along growing season. Flowers on hybrid cultivars are larger and showier.

Many Verbascums (or ‘mulleins’) grow quite tall (up to 3 metres) and need to be staked. Seedlings of named varieties will not grow true to their host, so these should be deadheaded before shedding their seed if you want to avoid a mixture of flower colours. The cultivars  ‘Gainsborough’, ‘Letitia and ‘Pink Domino’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Award of Garden Merit’. Since the year 2000, a number of new hybrid cultivars have come out that have increased flower size, shorter heights, and a tendency to be longer-lived plants and a number have colour ranges not typical of the species.

Larger species can be left to naturalise in gravel or wild gardens, where they make impressive architectural plants, and will benefit from the support of adjacent plants. Smaller types are good in rock gardens, screes, or even walls. All Mulleins can be prone to mildew.

Vita Sackville-West wrote in 1936 that her Verbascums looked as though “a colony of tiny buff butterflies had settled all over them”. She described the colourings as “dusty, fusty, musty”. Verbascums have not changed much since then. The Cotswold Group about which she was writing are still grown, and there are others – for example ‘Megan’s Mauve’, and the new variety, ‘June Johnson’ – in which purple and apricot have become interwoven.

Verbascums make good partners for old roses (which they succeed in flower); in groups of plants with rounded or vase-shaped form to provide a contrast; or (where they are white-flowered) placed in front of softly coloured Hydrangeas.

Apart from propagation by seed, replacement plants can easily be grown from root cuttings. In March, scrape soil away from the roots area, take a knife and sever two or three fat, strong roots. Cut these into 4cm lengths and set them upright, individually, in small pots of potting soil with plenty of perlite mixed in. After three months in a frame and kept watered, each will have grown into a new plant.

Sources and further information:



Growing Verbascums- Daily Telegraph

Plant guide- Fine Gardens

Rosy Hardy’s blogspot

Verbascum dumulosum- Kew Gardens

Old School Gardener


Our last, late summer visit to a west country garden, Killerton, did not disappoint. We enjoyed a very informative tour in a golf buggy and strolled around the grounds on a sunny afternoon. Lying just outside Exeter, Killerton is a massive estate and we had a little trouble actually finding the entrance (road signs and sat nav conspired against us!). Nevertheless we had a warm welcome.

Killerton is notable as the ‘home given away’. It’s last private owner,  Sir Richard Acland did just this with the whole estate of over 2,500 hectares (including 20 farms and 200-plus cottages), one of the largest acquired by the National Trust. Acland held a strong belief in the common ownership of land and was a founder member of the British Common Wealth Party, formed in 1942 to oppose the wartime coalition and to advocate a co-operative form of socialism, in contrast to the state-led approach of the Labour Party. However, the group never achieved an electoral break through and Acland joined the Labour Party in 1945. He was also one of the founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

The original gardens at Killerton were designed in the late 18th century by John Veitch, one of the leading landscape designers of the time. It features rhododendrons, magnolias, herbaceous borders and rare trees surrounded by rolling Devon countryside. Many of the trees and the views of the surrounding countryside are very impressive – here are some pictures.

The grounds also house – typically for the 19th century – an Ice House and a curious Summer House which is of a rather gothic design and features a strange assortment of decorative materials – including animal bones, hides and fir cones! Here’s a second set of pictures.

However, the ‘parterres’ or mixed herbaceous borders, full of late summer colour when we visited, stand out as my most significant memory of Killerton. These were designed by the late 19th century gardener, garden writer and designer William Robinson. They have some classic plant combinations and bold drifts, typical of the mixed herbaceous borders coming into vogue around this time, and which have been influential in English garden design up to the present day. This area features a central path and secondary paths with Coade stone urns as focal points. The layout of the borders is perhaps curious given Robinson’s advocacy of  ‘wild gardens’ – a more naturalistic approach to garden design. But even these semi formal designs, with their ‘loose planting’, were seen as revolutionary.  Apparently, Killerton’s head gardener at the time said:

‘it of course spoilt the park, starting as it does and ending nowhere, I got into bad odour condemning it’.

Robinson’s ideas about ‘wild gardening’ spurred the movement that evolved into the English cottage garden, a parallel to the search for honest simplicity and vernacular style of the British Arts and Crafts movement. Robinson is credited as an early practitioner of the mixed herbaceous border of hardy perennial plants, a ‘naturalistic’ look in stark contrast to the high Victorian ‘pattern garden’ of planted-out bedding schemes. Here is a gallery that, hopefully captures the best of these glorious borders.

Further information:

National Trust website

William Robinson- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

Aster alpinus

Aster alpinus

Michaelmas Daisies or Asters are simply named – from the greek ‘Aster’ meaning ‘a star’- referring to the shape of the flowers (though in truth some are more star – shaped than others).

The genus Aster once contained nearly 600 species in Eurasia and North America, but after research on the genus during the 1990s, it was decided that the North American species are better treated in a series of other related genera. After this split there are now roughly 180 species within the genus, all but one being confined to Eurasia. Many species and a variety of hybrids and varieties are popular as garden plants because of their attractive and colourful flowers, which are abundant in the Autumn- hence the association with Michaelmas – the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel (also the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, the Feast of the Archangels, or the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels) – 29th September. Because it falls near the equinox, this date is associated in the northern hemisphere with the beginning of Autumn and the shortening of daylight.

The genus Aster is now generally restricted to the Old World species, with Aster amellus being the type species of the genus, as well as of the family Asteraceae. Species names include:

A. acris = acrid, pungent

A. alpinus = alpine

A. amellus = name given by Virgil to a blue aster-like plant by the River Melia

A. cordifolia = heart-shaped leaves

A. delayvi = of Abbe Delayvi, a missionary

A. diffusus = spread out

A. dumosus = bushy

A. ericoides = like Erica (heather)

A. farreri = of Farrer

A. x frikartii = Frickart’s Aster, a hybrid of A. amellus and A. thomsonii

A. laevis = small, polished

A. linosyris = flax (Linum)- like

A. puniceus = purple

A. subcoeruleus = somewhat or slightly blue

A. vimineus = with long, pliant growths , like an osier

A. yunnanensis = of Yunnan, China

The Hungarian revolution of 31 October 1918, became known as the ‘Aster Revolution’ due to protesters in Budapest wearing this flower.


Sources and further information:


Ontario wildfowers- Asters information

Aster images

Old School Gardener

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rudbeckia via thegardendeliRudbeckia is a plant genus of 23 species, commonly called ‘Coneflowers’ and ‘Black-eyed-susans’. They are native to North America (‘prairie plants’) and are cultivated for their showy flower heads of yellow and orange, with a dark centre seed head, but there are also russet, bronze and mahogany tones. Mainly herbaceous perennials, some are annual or biennial.

They grow to between 0.5m and 3m tall, with simple or branched stems. The leaves are spirally arranged, and are between 5cm and 25 cm long. The flowers are daisy-like, with yellow or orange florets arranged in a prominent, cone-shaped head; “cone-shaped” because the ray florets tend to point out and down as the flower head opens.

A large number of species have been proposed within Rudbeckia, but most are now regarded as synonyms of a more restricted list. Several of these currently accepted species have a number of accepted varieties. Some of them (for example the Black-eyed Susan, R. hirta), are popular garden flowers, and prized for their long flowering times. There are many  cultivars of these species.

The name Rudbeckia was given by Linnaeus in honour of his botany teacher at Uppsala University – Professor Olof Rudbeck (1660-1740), and his father (also Professor Olaf – 1630-1702). Rudbeckia shares the common name ‘coneflower’ with other plants in the Asteraceae family – Echinacea, Dracopis and Ratibida.


Rudbeckias are not particular about soil, but do best in soil that is not too rich, with well-draining conditions. Rudbeckias love sunshine but R. laciniata and R. hirta (syn. gloriosa) will grow happily in dappled shade provided they have adequate moisture. Their blooms brighten up shadowy places wonderfully.  The flowers are daisy-like and can be single, semi double and fully double. Rudbeckias flower for a long period from late July well into autumn. Some of the varieties available include:

  • R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ – The standard for Rudbeckia. Long blooming and virtually pest free (60cm)

  • R. hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset’ – Double and semi-double flowers in shades of yellow, orange, red, bronze and mahogany. Short lived, but re-seeds itself (60cm)

  • R. hirta ‘Indian Summer’ – Traditional daisy-like, large yellow flowers. Short lived, but re-seeds itself or grow as an annual. (1m-1.2m)

  • Rudbeckia ‘Toto Rustic’ – A dwarf Rudbeckia in autumn colors. There are also golden ‘Toto’ & pale ‘Toto Lemon’.

  • R. maxima Giant Coneflower – 12cm flowers and large leaves on an imposing plant (1.3m – 2.5m)

R. maxima (the ‘Great Coneflower’ or ‘Cabbage-leaved Coneflower’) is a favourite variety – It is an elegant plant with flowers with tall, black central cones which launch themselves upwards as its long petals droop downwards. Its foliage – unique among coneflowers – is a rosette of long paddle-shaped glaucous leaves, each with an elongated stem. Because it is late into flower it sometimes gets put at the back of a border, but it is a star performer that should be used nearer the front where its beautiful blue-grey foliage can be appreciated. Another advantage is that its flower stems are almost bare, so are easy to see through.

Rudbeckia maxima

Rudbeckia maxima

Rudbeckia work equally well as a complement to blue and purple flowers, like Russian sage and Veronica and mixed in with other jewel tones, like Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’, Purple Echinacea and Asters. Rudbeckia also make great cut flowers and even the seed heads will hold up in arrangements. Some plant combinations to try:

R. fulgida var. deamii with aster ‘Little Carlow’.

R. ‘Goldquelle’, lightened up with the airy wands of Gaura lindheimeri among it and foamy Calamintha nepetoides at its feet.

R. maxima with big-leaved plants such as bananas, hedychiums and ricinus for a late-summer ‘jungle’ effect.


Keep plants well watered the first season, to get them established. Once established, they will be quite drought resistant. A mulch of compost should be all the feeding they need. Regular deadheading of the faded flowers will keep the plants in bloom longer. You can let the last flowers of the season remain on the plants to go to seed and feed the birds, but you will also get a good deal of self-seeding. All perennial Rudbeckia can be increased by dividing clumps in spring or taking basal cuttings.


Sources and further information:


Growing R. laciniata ‘Herbstonne’ – RHS

Growing R. fulgida– Daily Telegraph

Choosing and growing Rudbeckia- About.com

Rudbeckias- special perennials.com

Old School Gardener

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Papapver orientale at Old School Garden

Papaver orientale at Old School Garden

Papaver (poppy) is a genus of 70 species of annuals, biennials and perennials native to many parts of the world. The perennials include Papaver orientale (Oriental poppy), which is native to the Caucasus, northeastern Turkey, and northern Iran.

Perennial poppies are easy to grow – all are sun lovers and will grow well as long as they are in the sun and the soil is not waterlogged. They do best in poor but deeply cultivated, well-drained soil, (on the calcareous side) or even sharply drained in the case of Papaver alpinum and its forms. Apart from Papaver orientale other perennial poppies tend to be short-lived.

Poppies are tap rooted and do not transplant well, so should be sited carefully when first planted. Propagation is mainly from seed.

The flowers (which open from late spring into mid summer), are short-lived but beautiful – I particularly love the way a lowish sun can light up the garden as it shines through the large, brightly coloured, silky petals of the flowers. The flowers are followed by distinctive ‘pepper pot’ shaped seed capsules – best removed if you want to avoid abundant self seeding, but if this is not a concern, leave them to ripen on the plant –  they also provide a striking feature amidst other early summer flowering plants.

The flowers are low in allergens and are good for arrangements. However, they need to be picked at night before the bud opens; the bottom of the stem dipped in very hot water; kept cool overnight; then arranged in the morning. The seed pods are also good for arrangements, either fresh or dried.

The only drawbacks to poppies are that they often need to be staked; are prone to downy mildew; and the foliage can become untidy after flowering, This should be removed and another flush of leaves (and sometimes a second flowering) will follow. Alternatively, make sure the foliage, once removed does not leave a gap in your border by having other plants nearby that mature a bit later and take up the space left behind.

Further information:

Papaver orientale – Kew Gardens

Papaver orientale – RHS

Papaver orientale ‘Ladybird’

Nastional collection of Papaver orientale

Papaver alpinum

Papaver nudicaule

Poppyland: A Victorian romance and the birth of Norfolk tourism

Old School Gardener

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Osteospermum ecklonis

Osteospermum ecklonis

Osteospermum is a genus of some 70 species of annuals, perennials and evergreen sub shlrubs from mountainous, forest edge or grassland habitats in southern Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It has several common names: African Daisy, South African Daisy, Cape Daisy and Blue-eyed Daisy.

They are mostly tender or half-hardy, but a few are reliably hardy, and hybrids are being produced from these which are also hardy. In frost – prone areas the more tender types can be treated as annuals.
Osteospermum have three features that commend them to the gardener:

  1. A very long flowering season
  2. They are evergreen
  3. They make excellent ground cover

Their daisy-like flower heads have ray florets of pink, white or yellow- with a wider range of shades available in the cultivars and often with contrasting, darker disc florets.


Osteospermum Daisyweb

Osteospermums are relatively new to most gardeners, and were almost unheard of 25 years ago. They have risen in popularity in the last decade as they have become more commercially available. Osteospermums have now become very popular as summer bedding plants, either to put in the border or in pots. The prostrate varieties can be used in hanging baskets. Osteospermums require full sun for the flowers to fully open, although while half-closed it is possible to appreciate the different colours on the underneath of the petals. Some old favourites such as ‘Whirligig’ and ‘Pink Whirls’ have spoon shaped petals. There are also stunning variegated leaf varieties available such as ‘Giles Gilbey’ and ‘Silver Sparkler’.

As well as preferring a warm and sunny position they like rich, well drained soil- a sunny bank is ideal. They also  tolerate poor soil, salt or drought well. Modern cultivars flower continuously when watered and fertilised well, and dead-heading to prevent self seeding is not necessary, because they do not set seed easily, Deadheading will improve and prolong flowering, however. They make good cut flowers. If planted in a container, soil should be prevented from drying out completely. If they do, the plants will go into “sleep mode” and survive the period of drought, but they will abort their flower buds and not easily come back into flower. Moreover, roots are relatively susceptible to rotting if watered too profusely after the dry period. Regrettably, like most daisy- like flowers, they are highly allergenic. They are prone to downy mildew in wet areas.

O. 'Lemon Symphony'

O. ‘Lemon Symphony’

Sources and further information:



RHS plant selector

BBC- O. jucundum

Old School Gardener

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Nepeta- soem varieites are called Catnip or Catmint because cats love them!

Nepeta- some varieites are called Catnip or Catmint because cats love them!

Nepeta is a genus of about 250 species of perennials and a few annuals, native to cool and moist to hot and dry habitats in scrub, grassy banks, stony slopes or in high mountains, in non tropical areas of the northern hemisphere. So as you can see, there’s pretty much a Nepeta to suit every garden situation!

Some members of this group are known as catnip or catmint because of their effect on cats – the nepetalactone contained in some Nepeta species binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria!

They have sturdy stems with opposite heart-shaped, green to grey-green leaves. Nepeta plants are usually aromatic in foliage and flowers. The tubular flowers can be lavender, blue, white, pink, or lilac, and spotted with tiny lavender-purple dots. The flowers are located in ‘verticillasters’ grouped on spikes; or the verticillasters are arranged in opposite groups – toward the tip of the stems.

Nepeta can be drought tolerant, being able to conserve water. They bloom over a long period from late spring to autumn. Some species also have repellent properties to insect pests, including aphids and squash bugs, when planted in a garden. Nepeta species are used as food plants by the larvae of some butterflies and moths and as nectar sources for pollinators like bees.

Nepeta makea a wonderful sprawling edge to an informal border

Nepeta makes a wonderful sprawling edge to an informal border

Nepeta can be grown in any well drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Some species, like N. govaniana and N. subsessilis prefer moist, cool conditions, whereas N. sibirica likes it fairly dry. There are a few tall growing varieties, like ‘Six Hills Giant’, with a more upright habit. These need staking or support to see them at their best.  Most Nepetas will rebloom if sheared back after their initial flowering (N. x faassenii and N. nervosa for example). Some won’t provide much of a second show, but their foliage will be refreshed and tidied by the shearing.

Nepeta looks wonderful when covered in flower from early summer. The pale, often lavender-blue flowers perfectly complement the hairy, scalloped and wrinkled, silvery, blue-green leaves. The flowers appear as a haze of blue from a distance. It is often used as an informal, low hedge echoing the colours of lavender (and is used as a substitute where lavender isn’t hardy enough). But it has a rather lax form and will spread itself to cover its allotted space (and more!). Nepeta is best planted at the front of the border, edging a path, so that when you brush past it you will catch the full scent from its aromatic leaves. Nepeta is also a classic underplanting for roses. The colours complement and the foliage hides the ugly ‘knees’ of the rose bush.

We have some here at Old School Garden and this year I’m experimenting with it in some raised planters to try to get a cascading effect, as I’ve seen it used effectively this way on top of an old garden wall in Devon, though I suspect some varieties will have longer stems than others so are better suited to this treatment. The pastel blues of Nepeta combine wonderfully well with pinks and yellows, such as day lilies and yarrow (Achillea). It also looks good with Allium cristophii and Zinnia elegans ‘Envy’.

Some suggested varieties:

  • N. nervosa ‘Felix’ – Compact plant with vivid lavender-blue flowers. (12″ H x 24″ W)
  • N. x ‘Six Hills Giant’ – One of the tallest growing Nepetas, with lavender-blue flowers.(36″ H x 30″ W)
  • N. subsessilis ‘Sweet Dreams’ – Pink flowers with burgundy bracts. Likes a bit more water than most Nepetas. (2′ H x 3′ W)
  • N. racemosa ‘Walkers Low’– has 8″ spikes of lavender-blue flowers.  ( 2 H’ x 2′ W)

Nepeta faassenii 'Six Hills Giant'- foliage

Nepeta faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’- foliage

Nepeta is one of those plants that thrives on neglect. Too much fertilizer will only make it grow lots of flimsy foliage. A lean soil and somewhat dry growing conditions will encourage both flowers and scent. Many of the newer varieties of Nepeta are sterile, producing no viable seeds. This is a plus if you don’t like the weedy, self-seeding habit of older Nepeta varieties, but it means you will need to either buy plants or make plants from divisions or cuttings.  Division is not a requirement, but if you’d like more plants divide it in spring or in autumn. The Royal Horticultural Society have given it their prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

Nepeta longipes

Nepeta longipes

Sources and further information:


BBC – Catmint


One plant 3 ways- Nepeta design tips

Old School Gardener

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