The Perennial Plant Association has chosen Calamintha nepeta, common name calamint, as its 2021 Perennial Plant of the Year.
Calamint boasts a confetti-like cloud of tiny white tubular flowers sometimes touched with blue or lilac. It has a low, mounding, bushy form that grows 18” tall and wide. Both the flowers and the gray-green ovate leaves are fragrant. Calamint checks two boxes that are important to gardeners: bees, butterflies and other pollinators love it, and deer do not.
Calamint requires full sun, but afternoon shade on the hottest days of summer is fine. It prefers an evenly moist, well-drained soil, but will tolerate drought once established.
Even though calamint will bloom from June until frost, it isn’t the star of the garden on its own, but is the perfect foil for other perennial and annual flowers. It is ideal for rock gardens and can fill a space at the front, center or back of any flower bed depending on the height of its neighbors. It will fit into every garden landscape whether formal or more casual. It does well in containers, but pots must be brought into the garage over winter.
If calamint gets a bit raggedy over the summer, it can be sheared back lightly to shape and to promote new flowers. It should be cut back to 6” in fall or early spring
Calamint is a member of the mint family and like all mints, will spread. It sends out rhizomes – horizontal roots that send up shoots – and in addition, stems that touch the ground may root where the nodes touch the soil. Besides that, it seeds prolifically. All this should tell you a few things: one, it is easy to propagate by either seed or division, and two, it needs watching to keep it in check.
Calamint is recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7. In Winnebago County, we are mostly in Zone 5a, which is the very coldest of the recommended range for this plant. Landscapes vary across our county and your own property’s microclimate might or might not be Zone 5a. Because we’re on the edge here, you should provide winter protection for calamint in the form of hay, straw or evergreen boughs placed around the stem of the plant after the ground freezes.
Are you wondering how a plant gets to be chosen Perennial Plant of the Year? Perennial Plant Association members vote each summer on the following year’s plant. At that time, each member is allowed to nominate two plants for future consideration. A committee reviews the nominated plants, which may number 400, and narrows the field to three or four to be placed on the ballot.
Plant nominees need to satisfy the following criteria: suitable for a wide range of climates, low-maintenance, relatively pest-free and disease resistant, multiple seasons of ornamental interest, and be readily available at garden centers the year it is elected. Look for calamint at your local garden center this spring!