Bumble and Sparkle with Calamint
September 12, 2023
“No bees!” is not a command Leela is willing to learn. “Sit, rollover, shake,” and “stay” she’s mastered, but something about the allure of bees flying at her nose height is as irresistible as a squirrel’s swishing tail.
The potted calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Montrose White’) at my deck stair makes it hard for her to be a good girl. In bloom since June, it’s hitting full sparkle now, marking the end of summer. And, wow, is it a popular destination for all kinds of bees: honeybees, of course, but also small, black miner bees, and big black-tailed bumblebees, and the even bigger yellow-faced bumblebees.
Once my unschooled dog is back indoors, I bend, hands on knees, and watch the activity. From one tiny, white trumpet to the next, a party of nectar-drinkers bobble the stems and sip. Just as Leela never tires of snapping at them, I never tire of watching bees. It works a medicine on my nerves, calming them, and leaving me open to joy.
I first planted calamint nearly twenty years ago and loved it then as a kind of baby’s breath foil combined with peonies and switch grass. The cultivar ‘Montrose White’ has been available since about 1999 so that might be what I had, but there are others so I can’t be sure. Did I notice self-seeded volunteers? That would have been a sign that it wasn’t ‘Montrose White’ who’s sterile and never becomes overly generous with offspring. Instead, this cultivar puts all its energy into months-long bloom. From June into October airy clouds of clear white mound and spill through the garden. Looking closer, I notice sweet little lilac freckles in the mouths of the blooms.
And, this is one plant that deserves a closer look. Even though it’s been available for nearly two dozen years and was awarded perennial plant of the year in 2021, it remains uncommon. No, it’s not the showstopper with dinner-plate blossoms on the nursery table, and yes, you have to put it in the ground to really see what it does. When you do, I’m sure you’ll be as smitten as I am.
Combine it with other sun lovers that bloom at the same time like the lovely pink naked lady lily (Amaryllis belladonna), or create a bold contrast with the large felted leaves and trumpet flowers of sacred datura (Datura wrightii) in a moon garden. In the pollinator garden it extends the floral offerings late into the season when many of our natives have settled into dormancy. I could see it working alongside Western narrowleaf mule’s ear (Wyethia angustifolia) to cover bare ground while the mule’s ear rests in summer dormancy. Or with Pacific aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) for a harmonious compliment of bee-happy flowers.
But, really the best way to use calamint is in multiples repeated throughout the garden. It has that special quality that allows it to be considered a “matrix” plant. Unlike true mints (peppermint or spearmint) calamint maintains a friendly sociability with its neighbors rather than taking over. It mounds and weaves its thin stems through the community of plants, playing a supporting role that elevates the scene and ties a mixed planting together.
I think I’ll transplant my potted calamint into the garden around my fountain where others are happily billowing. Bee visitors aren’t under attack there by the snapping jaws of my dog!
Where could you use the September bumble and sparkle of calamint in your garden?