A low maintenance plant with high impact purple blooms, Nepeta is a must-have in the garden (and not just to keep your feline friends happy).
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Move over Lavender, there's a new queen of mauve in town, and she means business. Nepeta, also known as Cat Mint, dazzles with lofty spikes of aromatic purple flowers that appear without any of the fuss associated with its Mediterranean lookalike.
Nepeta's reign extends all the way back to Medieval times. Back then, Nepeta was a medicinal plant commonly used to treat colds and those with a nervous disposition. Or as Frank Anderson writes of the plant in 1984's German Herbals through 1500, it can "induce perspiration, prevent tremors and chills, cure skin ailments, and ease asthma and hysteria."
This genus of long-lasting summer flowering perennials look particularly fetching, tumbling over paving, gracefully overstepping borders or sprucing up a patio in a terracotta pot.
With its upright stems and delicate flowers ranging from calming indigo blues and lilacs to deep violets, Nepeta is a regal addition to the garden. But these days, there's a more practical reason for falling for Nepeta's charms. Climate change has pushed drought-tolerant plants very much into vogue.
Planting inspiration: What to Plant with Catmint?
If you're looking for planting inspiration, look to the English Arts and Crafts school of garden design found at Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire, and Somerset’s Hestercombe, the brainchild of Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. Both used frothy clouds of purple to add drama to a backdrop of greens and greys.
A classic arrangement sees Nepeta nestled among Hardy Geraniums and Salvias, looking great when planted in a herb or cottage garden.
We'd choose to pair with Yarrow if you're looking to fill your borders with an abundance of pollinating insects!
Nepeta plants also look stunning when matched with other hues of blue, purple and pink flowers. When matched with flowers of different shape and size, you'll add some degree of texture to your beds. Our favourite combinations for this plant are:
For herb and scented gardens, choose lavender!
How to care for Nepeta
Grow Nepeta from a cutting or seed. (If you start with seed, water the delicate seedlings from below to avoid damaging them.)
Generally, Nepeta enjoys a sunny position and will sulk if put in a shaded spot. However, a position in partial shade will be fine, for example, if the area was blessed with morning sun but was shaded during the warmest hours.
Nepeta will thrive in most well-draining soils, including sandy and loamy types. The soil should be on the moist to dry side, although impressively, Nepeta will put up with temperatures of minus 20. So a good plant choice if you live in a frost-prone area.
You can breathe a sigh of relief. There's no long list of pests or diseases you need to watch out for with Nepeta. However, the plant can develop Powdery Mildew if conditions are too wet, and it might attract the attention of the odd slug and snail. All in all, Nepeta is a low maintenance plant and an easy way to bring pollinators and colour into your garden.
It's worth noting that Nepeta belongs to the Mint family and will grow bushier as its rhizomes spread out. Plant along the edge of a pathway and enjoy the minty fragrance as you brush past. There's nothing like getting a whiff of Eau de Mojito in the summer sunshine!
While Nepeta isn't considered invasive in the UK, Nepeta will benefit from division every couple of years. Wait until spring and make sure the plant has lots of young shoots and a sturdy root system before dividing. More on that here:
Did you know?
- Nepeta is named after a classical-era town in Tuscany and is traditionally eaten with mushrooms.
- Wondering why Nepeta is named Catmint? The clue is in the name - some cats really love rolling in it. The chemical that sends some kitties crazy is called nepetalactone. If you're a cat owner, you can even crush the leaves up and add them to toys. If you don't like the idea of cats getting high in your garden, avoid Nepeta Cataria, as this the one most likely to attract cats.
- Writing in 1597, Herbal author John Gerarde records the behaviour the plant provoked in 16th century felines: “Cats are very much delighted herewith: for the smell of it is so pleasant unto them, that they rub themselves upon it, and wallow or tumble in it, and also feed on the branches very greedily.”
- Nepeta might be well-loved by cats, but it has the opposite effect on mosquitoes and has been utilised in insect repellents. In fact, scientists found it to be ten times more effective at repelling mozzies than the more commonly used DEET.
- Catmint has been known to have mild psychoactive properties (not that we would know, of course). Research shows that catnip contains a compound chemically similar to the sedative found in valerian, a well-known natural tranquillizer used to aid sleep.
- In the Middle East, some species are used to treat depression. Over collection is causing conservation headaches in the region.
- Most of the plant is edible and can be used in soups or sauces or brewed into a tea. The flavour is said to be somewhere in between marjoram, mint and dill.
Where to buy Nepeta
Got a terracotta pot with Nepeta's name on it? You can find Nepeta for sale from trusted UK sellers on Candide.
Do you prefer flowers or foliage? Let us know what you're growing by using the hashtag #ShowUsYourBlooms
This article is part of The Candide Festival of Flowers, an online floral ‘take over’, aiming to unite the nation in a joyful celebration of gardens, plants, pollinators and people! Read more from the series below.