An Alternative to Lavender
Don't let your climate stop you from growing lavender. Try this alternative.
Hybrid catmints (Nepeta x faassenii) offer northern gardeners a lush and herbal-scented alternative to less-cold-tolerant lavenders. Hardy to Zone 3, catmints are long-lived, reliable plants with an appearance that nicely mimics lavender's form, foliage and flowers.
Spikes of lavender-blue, trumpet-shaped blooms rise from aromatic, silvery-grey mounds to brighten the landscape from late spring through summer. With proper care, the drought-tolerant plants will often rebloom to add a splash of blue to the autumn garden.
These plant-them-and-forget-them perennials require only a sunny to lightly shaded planting site, average well-drained soil and a semiannual application of compost. Once established, nepetas need little extra watering-in fact, too-wet or too-rich soil will cause plants to flop. They don't require deadheading, but a good trimming after the first flush of blooms will encourage plants to produce a second round of flowers.
Nepeta's attributes are many. The plants attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, but are bypassed by rabbits and deer while repelling garden pests such as aphids, ants, and squash beetles. Their dried leaves and flowers can be used to scent potpourris, while fresh-cut stems add color and fragrance to bouquets. The plants are easily propagated by division in fall or spring.
Unlike their invasive catmint cousins, nepeta hybrids are sterile and more restrained in their growth habits. Taller varieties such as 'Six Hills Giant,' which bear deep-violet flowers on plants that grow up to 36 inches tall and 36 inches wide, pair nicely with sedums, ornamental grasses, and yellow yarrows and lilies. Lower-growing, blue-flowering cultivars—such as 'Select Blue,' 'Walkers Low,' and 'Felix'—work well in rockeries, herb gardens and containers. An ideal complement to roses, these more compact cultivars can also be grown as groundcovers, planted to edge perennial borders, and placed to trail their minty scent over walls and across pathways.
Best Lavenders for Drying
English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Cultivars
Lavandins (L. x intermedia) Cultivars
- 'Hidcote': Very fragrant, deep-bluish purple blooms in early summer on compact plants between 18 and 24 inches in height and 12 inches in width. Lovely silvery-green foliage provides a striking base for the flowers. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.
- 'Munstead': Fragrant blue flowers bloom in late spring and early summer on compact plants that grow to 2 feet in height and to 18 inches wide. This old-fashioned favorite is a reliable and long-blooming plant. Hardy in Zones 5 to 10.
- 'Royal Velvet': Striking navy-blue and lavender 3- to 4-inch flower spikes bloom in late spring and early summer on long stems sprouting from plants that grow between 2 and 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. Dried flowers hold their color well. The quick-growing cultivar weathers winters well and is hardy in Zones 5 to 10.
- 'Grosso': Numerous dark blue-purple flower spikes bloom on long stems from late spring and into summer on 30- by 30-inch plants. One of the cold-hardiest hybrid lavenders, Grosso boasts a strong lavender scent with tones of camphor and dries beautifully. Hardy in Zones 5 to 10.
- 'Hidcote Giant': Fat and fragrant, light-lavender flowers bloom in summer on medium-sized shrubs that grow to 3 feet high and 2 feet wide. The dense, flower-plumped spikes and strong stems make this lavender a favorite for drying. Hardy in zones 6 to 11.