Need a low-growing, prolific bloomer for a sunny garden spot or border? Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta might be the plant for you. Nicknamed Lesser Calamint, this mound-forming perennial blooms from June to first frost, and sometimes afterward. It's hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9, according to Midwest Groundcovers, which shares some excellent photos of the plant in full bloom at maturity.
The first photo in this post is deceptive: I'm estimating each flower is about one-quarter the width of my pinky finger. I enlarged and cropped the photo so you could see the detail of the tiny, lavender/white blooms.
You get an idea of the scale of the individual flowers from the photo above: The Lesser Calamint plants shown here are the smaller ones with plant stakes along the front border of a pollinator garden. The flowers grow along a spiking stem in profusion during the summer. The plants in this photo are first-year plants. When mature, they reach heights and spreads of about one to two feet.
I discovered this plant during a late autumn 2013 trip to Olbrich Botanical Gardens, in Madison, which has sold Lesser Calamint during its plant sale for the past few years. Even in late fall, the plants there were covered with a diverse range of pollinators. This plant is low-maintenance and drought-tolerant, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. (Information about Lesser Calamint in this post comes from these two sources and my own experience.)
The subspecies nepeta is sterile, so it won't re-seed. It forms a shrub-like mound of foliage, out of which the flower stems emerge in late spring.
This slightly closer view of the foliage and the flower stems shows how airy and light they are.
Other facts about Lesser Calamint:
- The leaves of this Mint-family plant are edible as a tea or as an herb, with scent and flavor reminiscent of Oregano and Mint;
- It prefers full sun, but tolerates afternoon shade, and prefers dry to medium moisture levels;
- No serious insect or disease problems; and
- The minty scent deters deer and rabbits.
It's an attractive and wildlife-friendly plant that has the added benefit of being edible.