Experience catmint’s unique and irresistible charms
Published 29/06/2014 | 00:00
Catmint gets its name because of its attraction for cats. It is part of the mint family and emits a spicy sage-like, or minty, scent from the leaves, stems and flowers. The slightest brush against the plant causes this smell to be released.
Many members of the mint family are strongly scented, such as mint, thyme, rosemary and sage, and catmint is no different.
They are mostly plants of Mediterranean origin and, growing in dry soil on dry sunny hillsides, they are likely candidates for greenfly to feed on, if not for their scented deterrent system.
Each member of the family has a distinctive scent, which is why cats are attracted to catmint, but not to related plants.
The attraction for cats is a particular volatile chemical, which is emitted by catmint and bonds to the cat's olfactory glands, promoting a temporary euphoric reaction. Not all cats are attracted to the plant but some visit it a lot, and roll around on the plant to release more of the scent chemical.
Despite its attraction for unwanted feline visitors, catmint or nepeta is popular in gardens and, in general, the plants are undisturbed by the actions of cats. The plant pushes out its long narrow sprays of flowers in spring.
It is generally in flower in May, peaking in June and carrying on flowering to a lesser extent all summer.
It happens to flower just about the right time for old roses in June and it looks great with the pink and purplish-red shades of these roses, the smoky blue colour of the nepeta making a perfect companion colour. The flowers themselves are small, tubular, like those of the rest of the family.
It also has the ability to make a garden or a border look longer than it is. The smoky grey-blue combination of leaves and flowers give the illusion of distance and can be used to give an evocation of space, and a certain dreamy quality to a garden.
There are big and small varieties. 'Six Hills Giant' is too big for most ordinary gardens and the smaller 'Blue Beauty' is more manageable.
All kinds like full sunshine, and good soil, well drained, not too rich. The flowers can be trimmed off completely after the first flush.