Virtues: Lesser calamint (Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta) is 2021's Perennial Plant of the Year, an award bestowed by the Perennial Plant Association. This adaptable, long-blooming plant is hailed as a compact alternative to catmint (Nepeta). It is friendly to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, all of which feed at its summer-long flowers.
Common name: Lesser calamint
Botanical name: Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta
Exposure: Full sun, with some afternoon shade in hot areas
Flowers: The individual white flowers are tiny, but they line the stems in such profusion they create a cloud-like effect. They resemble baby's breath. The bloom period begins in early summer and continues to the first frost of fall.
Foliage: Small, light green and mint scented.
Habit: Lesser calamint is an herbaceous perennial that grows between 12 and 16 inches tall and wide, with dense, upright stems contributing a shrubby appearance. Its low height and full shape recommend it for planting en masse as an edging plant.
Origin: Western Europe, from the Mediterranean to the United Kingdom.
How to grow it: Lesser calamint needs full sun, but benefits from a little afternoon shade in the warmest regions of its growing range. Its other requirements are few. It is adaptable to any soil type and it can withstand some drought once established. It is said to be resistant to deer, and it is an excellent plant for pollinating insects and hummingbirds. If the plant looks a bit bedraggled toward late summer, cut it back by half for a flush of fresh growth. Leave the old stems standing over the winter and cut them down to the ground in early spring. USDA Zones 5–9.
The Perennial Plant Association, a trade group of growers, nursery people, landscape professionals and others who work closely with perennials, has named a Perennial Plant of the Year since 1990. Winners must thrive across varied climates, grow with little intervention, offer more than one season of interest and remain largely free of pests and diseases. For past winners see the list at the PPA website.
Image credit: Walters Gardens