Garden lore: Friday 26 September

Who doesn’t love lavender? Even I, with my oft-repeated concern about the over-use of edging plants and how that can render any garden depressingly suburban, have to admit that there is something romantic about a sea of lavender. Or a long expanse thereof. But this is not lavender – it is in fact nepeta, or catmint, in early summer.

The problem with lavender is that it is a Mediterranean plant. It needs full sun, brilliant drainage, prefers it not too fertile and needs trimming correctly or it may die. In fact it may die anyway if your conditions are less than ideal. Rich dairy farming conditions with plenty of rainfall are invariably less than ideal. It is also a woody plant so needs to be propagated from cutting which makes it more expensive to buy.

Nepeta, on the other hand, is a lot more forgiving and will take sun or semi shade and still flower. It is not fussy about soil type. Being a clumping perennial which multiplies readily, even the novice gardener will be able to work out how to divide it and spread it. When it has finished flowering, you can just hack it back to a low carpet. Of course it is not lavender. But if you can’t do lavender, it is a viable alternative and the expanse of blue railway tracks into the merry yonder is just as charming visually. There are a number of different nepetas but it appears that many of the garden selections originate from N. fasssenii.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.