The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Highlighting 2007 Perennial Plant of the Year

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Award shows are everywhere and the plant world is no exception. The Perennial Plant Association has chosen Nepeta 'Walker's Low' as their 2007 perennial plant of the year. This winner is not just another pretty face. Award winners are chosen by the members of the Perennial Plant Association for the plant's beauty, but also for its durability and easy growing nature. This catmint deserves a stroll down the catwalk.

'Walker's Low' has lovely small silvery-green crinkled leaves with spikes of delicate violet blue flowers all along the stems. Its large mounds of flowers and foliage can easily fill a garden space. As with other catmints if it is cut back to 12 inches tall after the initial bloom in spring, it will continue to bloom all summer.

'Walker's Low' deserves to be an award winner, but it has a somewhat confusing name. Its name has more to do with where it was found in an Irish garden in the 1970's than its growth habit. There is nothing low about it. 'Walker's Low' easily gets to 36 inches tall with a similar spread. Give this one plenty of room or it will quietly smother its garden neighbors.

I have always found catmints to be durable long blooming perennials for a sunny garden with well-drained soil. Don't be afraid of its heritage as a mint and catmint. 'Walker's Low' is a cultivar of Nepeta x faassenii, the well-behaved relative of mint and hybrid of a couple other catmints. The clumps will get larger each year, but 'Walker's Low' does not send out runners as does mint. In addition this catmint has sterile seeds so it doesn't have the habit of reseeding itself everywhere. Another interesting attribute with catmints is their reputation for making cats act strange. However with most cats I've found strange behavior is hard to distinguish from their usual demeanor. I've never looked out at my garden to find all the neighborhood cats rolling in my 'Walker's Low' so I don't think it's their first choice.

'Walker's Low' is a good companion plant in a garden or container when given plenty of room. It will easily cascade over walls. Place it along a walkway or use it as a ground cover. Let it work its way through the gangly legs of roses. Its delicate nature adds a needed diversity to the large leaves of daylilies, iris, peonies and foxgloves. Add it to flower beds alongside dark leaved sedums of 'Vera Jameson' or 'Black Jack' or the ornamental grasses of blue fescue 'Elijah Blue' or Pennisetum 'Hameln'. 'Walker's Low' would look beautiful with past Perennial Plant Association winners of Salvia 'May Night', Dianthus 'Firewitch', and Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'. Plant it with annual flowers of deep blue or pink petunias, or hot yellow or orange marigolds. It's the little back dress of the plant world and looks good with just about anything.

Bees and butterflies love the small flowers borne profusely along the stems. You will notice the leaves have a distinctive minty smell as you work around the plants. That same smell may be why rabbits and deer don't enjoy munching on it for lunch. As with other catmints 'Walker's Low' has few insect and disease problems and takes very little maintenance. Once established catmints are drought and salt tolerant. Check out 'Six Hills Giant', 'Dropmore' and 'Blue Wonder' which are other cultivars of catmint deserving a place in the garden.

The Perennial Plant Association (PPA) is a trade organization comprised of growers, retailers, educators, and garden writers that are dedicated to the improvement of perennial plants through education that enhances production, promotion and utilization of perennial plants. For more information about perennials and to discover past winners, check out the Perennial Plant Association's website www.perennialplant.org

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