Thursday, 9 June 2011

Stachys macrantha...

I love to see labels in other peoples gardens, but hate them in my own. 


In educational settings, botanic gardens and other special spaces for learning, they are essential. But, where beauty and atmosphere is the main aim, a graveyard of white stick labels amongst the plantings can be overwhelming. Though informative, reading off plant names is usually a distraction from ‘reading’ the bigger picture.

At Levens, where labeling is kept to a minimum, the truly dedicated will often pick up our plant list which details in botanical latin the names and locations of all that grows in the garden. The more casually curious however seek out a gardener to identify their particular plant of interest. 
Its good to chat with our visitors, to get feedback on those plants and plantings that are most effective that week. But, the art of describing favoured foliage or flowers is notoriously difficult and often the best way to get to an identity is to get an idea of where it was seen. Nowadays too, it is made all the easier by the advent of the digital camera and camera-phones. A quickly captured image on one of these is worth a thousand words.

So, what plant is catching the eye right now in the borders? Which flower has enough wow factor to warrant knowing by name? Well, it used to be most often described to us as “That Hyacinth-like flower,” but of course it’s a little too late for spring bulbs. The plant in question actually goes by the scientific name of ‘Stachys macrantha’ or sometimes more popularly as ‘Big Betony.’
This low growing herbaceous plant carpets the ground well with dark green, crinkly leaves through much of the year. In early summer they produce upright, angular stemmed spikes set with beautiful whorls of large, lipped flowers in shades of pinky purple. This striking display at about eighteen inches high is ideal for the front of the border. Later, after the flowers have faded, the spent flower stems can be cut away leaving that attractive and tidy carpet of ground covering green leaves.

Interestingly, its close relative and the ‘Stachys’ most people would associate with gardens is ‘Lambs Lugs’ or ‘Stachys lanata’ whose woolly white leaves and look are a world away from the ‘Stachys macrantha’ described above. So remember, when seeking out a plant by name, it’s the full scientific name that matters...

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