If I could only grow one perennial plant in my garden, I would choose nepeta (also known as catmint or catnip).
I would need to be a poet to be able to fully describe the beauty of this perennial. Because I am not one, I can give you a mere list of reasons on why you should be growing catmint as well.
11 reasons why you should be growing nepeta in your garden
- Nepeta flowers earlier than most other summer perennials, much earlier than Salvia, for instance.
- Catmint flowers twice a year. Not many plants manage to to do that, especially here in the North.
- The colour of the nepeta flowers is very unique. A mixture of lavender and blue that makes you feel refreshed and calm. It is a magic colour at which you could stare for hours.
- Once the petals fall, the remaining spikes keep much of their decorative power. Because of this, even after flowering nepeta is decorative.
- Even the leaves of nepeta have a strong appeal, having a charming silvery-blue colour.
- Nepeta is one of the best companion plants for roses and most of the perennials. If blue-purple does not fit your colour scheme, no problem, there are also white nepeta varieties out there!
- True, catmint looks great next to roses. But it also looks amazing if planted by itself!
- You don’t have a garden? No problem! Nepeta flowers well also in pots.
- By now you might be thinking: “Hm… the plant sounds interesting, but wait, did you say it was called catmint? Isn’t this the plant that attracts cats?”. Yes, the genus nepeta has been said to attract cats. However, we grow in our garden 5 nepeta varieties, have at least three cats visiting the garden, but we have never seen any of them being particularly interested in any of our catmints. Therefore, don’t worry, cats will not ruin your flowerbeds if you plant catmint.
- Catmint is one of the best bee friendly perennials present in our garden.
- Catmint is winter hardy and grows well in full sun or partial shade.
Now that I have shared with you some of my excitement and love for this plant, let’s start exploring the world of growing nepeta into more details.
In this chapter I will describe the nepeta varieties we grow in our garden. All the information reported in this article is based on our experience with these varieties.
There is a little bit of confusion on what is the correct Latin name for several catmint varieties. For instance, some refer to Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low” as Nepeta faassenii “Walker’s Low”. This is just to make you aware that if you go to a nursery and see a Nepeta faassenii “Walker’s Low”, this is the same plant as the one I have been talking about. In this article I am using the naming of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Nepeta faassenii “Six Hills Giant”
This catmint is truly spectacular. It produces a large clump, with beautifully blue-grey leaves. You should find the right spot for this plant, as nepeta Six Hills Giant needs space to grow. One of ours is planted in a crowded flowerbed. To make the plant more visible (and give some space to all the surrounding plants) we are forced to place some supports around it. Don’t make the same mistakes as we did and plant nepeta Six Hills Giant in a spacious place. This catmint variety looks stunning also, if not more when planted alone, see the design chapter for more tips.
Nepeta racemosa “Grog”
This catmint is shorter than nepeta Six Hills Giant, and flowers first among all our varieties (it starts around the 20th of May). Nepeta Grog has only one minor problem. It self-seeds a lot. Each year in spring and autumn we are forced to remove literally thousands of catmint seedlings around the spot where Grog grows. This was good at the beginning, as we could quickly increase the number of catmint plants in our garden. However, now, we are quite saturated with Nepeta, and are forced to remove most of the seedlings. Nevertheless, the tons of catmint we had available, enabled us to experiment with the plant. This is how we found out Nepeta Grog does well in half shade and in pots.
Nepeta racemosa “Walker’s Low”
Contrary to its name, Nepeta Walker’s Low is not very low. It is about the same height as the other catmint varieties, besides nepeta Six Hills Giant, which is larger. Nepeta Walker’s Low is a great perennial that produces flowers of a more intense blue colour than the other catmints in our garden. It also does not self-seed too much.
After falling in love with the other nepeta varieties, I decided we needed to have more catmints in the garden (this was before we realised Grog crazily self-seeded). To cut on the expenses, I bought Nepeta faassenii seeds. Although I am not a fan of propagating plants by seeds, it was super easy growing catmint from seeds. I just threw a handful of seeds in a seed tray with some generic soil, let it stay outside in a sunny spot, and in late summer I transferred the nepeta plants into the flowerbeds. The young plants happily survived the winter and flowered the next season.
Nepeta faassenii is a hardy catmint of an average size, very similar to nepeta Grog. It does not self-seed as much as Grog, therefore if you do not need many catmints in your garden and do not want to weed out the nepeta plants, I would recommend getting Nepeta faassenii instead of Nepeta racemosa Grog.
Nepeta racemosa “Snowflake”
This is our latest addition to the catmint family. A white nepeta! Nepeta snowflake is a hardy perennial, similar in size to Grog. Although it is great to have a white nepeta in your collection, I believe Snowflake is not as decorative as the blue catmint plants. Firstly, its leaves do not have a marked blue-grey tinge as the leaves of the blue varieties. Secondly, the spent spikes of nepeta snowflake are green and not purple. This drastically decreases the decorative value of the white nepeta. And finally, the white colour of the Snowflake flowers is nowhere near as charming and calming as the spikes of nepeta Six Hills Giant and its blue brothers.
The only advantage of Snowflake over the other nepeta varieties is that Snowflake is white. If you need a white perennial as a companion plant, I would recommend white salvia, instead of white nepeta. The former is more compact, which means the white colour is more intense. However, nepeta Snowflake is definitely not a bad perennial, and you should consider it, especially if you need a plant with white flowers that blooms before salvia does.
It is very easy caring for nepeta. Catmint prefers sun, but we found out that Nepeta Grog will also grow in partial shade. It has no particular soil preferences, as long as your soil is not extreme (extremely sandy or heavy clay). Use your own experience. If other plants grow in your soil, catmint will as well.
Prune catmint in summer, once it is done flowering. Deadhead it, or simply cut it by a third, to promote the development of new flowers. We have discovered that if the plant is left unfertilised, the second flowering will be not nearly as decorative as the first one. Therefore, it is important that you fertilise catmint after you have pruned it.
I find it difficult to decide when to deadhead nepeta. If you do it too early, its spikes have still many flowers which are attracting bees. If you do it too late, you are postponing its second flowering. You just have to be strong and deadhead nepeta although there are still some flowers left.
Once it has flowered the second time, prune it once more. Blue catmint will still look decorative even when the petals have fallen, due to the beautiful purple spent spikes, but you should deadhead it! Firstly, this will make your flowerbed look tidier; Secondly, catmint will save energy for next year as it will not need to waste it to ripen its seeds; And thirdly, if you cut the spent flowers, nepeta will not self-seed as much.
You should be pruning catmint the last time in late autumn. Just cut it to the ground and that’s it.
Nepeta is among the best bee friendly plants. If I want to see which pollinators are currently present in the surroundings, I go straight to our nepeta plants. I am sure to find there all the pollinator species currently present in our garden.
Design with Nepeta
You can do so much with nepeta in your garden, or just a balcony. The most important thing to remember is that you will get the best results if you plant multiple nepeta plants. Here is a list of my favourite ways of using nepeta:
1. Plant nepeta together with blue salvia and alchemilla, along a path or fence. Alternate them: one clump of nepeta, one of salvia and one of alchemilla, then again nepeta, salvia, alchemilla and so on.
2. Nepeta is one of the best companion plants for roses. It looks great with shrub roses as well as ground covering and climbing roses. For the latter, I would recommend using a large plant as Nepeta Six Hills Giant.
3. Nepeta looks great planted next to most perennials. Try blue nepeta together with white spring anemones, or purple tall alliums, or any yellow flowering plant, if you like some contrast.
4. If you have a large balcony or veranda, try growing nepeta in pots. We like placing 5-10 nepeta pots of different heights on our veranda. Once the catmint starts flowering, you get an island of flowers floating on top of your pavement. Very beautiful! If you choose this option, remember to buy large pots, as nepeta does not like small containers. I would recommend fertilising the pots every month. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of our nepeta flowering in pots. Luckily, Alexandra from the Middlesized Garden allowed me to use her picture to show the beautiful nepeta in containers!
5. Nepeta Six Hills Giant looks great next to ponds. Its voluminous spikes reflect beautifully in the water and add height to the pond.
6. Nepeta Six Hills Giant looks great if it is not surrounded by other plants. The best spot for this catmint is planted in an area covered with pavement or stones. It is a great focus point: the massive clump of the silvery leaves of nepeta, the beautiful lavender blue flowers, and a cold pavement colour. No green, no warm colours, it looks very stylish. This composition will be decorative in late spring and late summer-autumn, meaning before and after the usual holiday season.
Nepeta is definitely my favourite perennial. I love that it is so easy to grow and versatile in the design. All the nepeta plants, but especially Nepeta Six Hills Giant deserve the Amberway Approval.
Flowering time: Late Spring, Summer, Autumn
Flower yield: High
Sun exposure: ½ to whole day sun
Scent: Flowers not, leaves yes.
Pollinator attraction: High
Lowest temperature survived: -20°C