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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

Lamiums & Lamiastrum are detailed and illustrated in Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Lamium 'Ghost' with black mondo grassLamium stars as a groundcover
Dead nettle enlivens the shade garden

by Carolyn Singer
April 24, 2010

Recently I was purchasing two perennial plants, Lamium 'Ghost' and black mondo grass (see photo, right), in a local nursery when the customer behind me asked, "what are you going to do with that?" as she pointed to the Lamium. Tempted to respond "have fun!" I hesitated. She added that someone had given her one and she really did not know what to do with it.

My answer was that it's a great groundcover for the shade, the deer do not eat it, and it's a terrific container plant. Then I added my intent to have fun by combining the two evergreen plants I was purchasing in the same container. And I made a mental note to write a column about Lamium as soon as possible.

The first recorded history of this plant may have been as early as the 18th century, when Carl Linneus, "father of modern taxonomy" depicted Lamium in a painting. It has grown as a perennial native in woodlands over a wide range of Europe and Asia for centuries.

A recent article about bees in Pacific Horticulture notes that two families of plants are particularly important as primary sources to sustain bee populations: Asteraceae and Lamiaceae. Lamium is a genus in the second family.

Lamium 'Ghost' is a new cultivar I'm trying for the first time. Silvery-white leaves are edged in dark green, with splotches of lavender-pink on some of leaves, echoing the hue of the flowers. A striking combination with the black mondo grass, these two perennials will provide color for my shady entry garden all year.

The lighter the color of the leaves, the more shade-tolerant the cultivar. 'White Nancy' has very white leaves and white flowers and performs well in deep shade. The perfect situation for all Lamium is in the shade of a deciduous tree, where even shallow tree roots do not hinder its growth. Spread is often to three feet or more in good soil. Do not overwater! This plant can dry out between irrigations.

Lamium 'Roseum'Leaves that are greener do better in bright light (semi-shade) on the south side of the tree zone. In semi-shady areas of the garden, I've used Lamium 'Roseum' (see photo, left), a cultivar with dark green leaves accented with white, and pretty rosy-pink flowers. Even a little afternoon sun on the west side of the tree zone is tolerated by this cultivar.

Lamium are low-growing, most under a foot, and begin bloom early. Flowers continue to open, without deadheading faded blooms, all summer into fall. In mild microclimates blossoms may even open in winter. A terrific bee plant!

Lamium 'Pink Chablis'I often add Lamium with a compact growth habit to a summer container of annual Impatiens. The contrast is attractive, and when fall frost ends the display of Impatiens, the Lamium continues into the winter. Or it may then be added in fall to the garden landscape. My two favorite container Lamium are 'Pink Pewter' and 'Pink Chablis' (see photo, right).

A closely related plant, Lamiastrum galeobdolon (Lamium galeobdolon), yellow archangel, has a growth habit quite different from the Lamium detailed here. Plants vine from rooted crowns, covering the ground quickly in shade, and rooting where they touch the mulch. With maturity, the evergreen Lamistrum is almost two feet in height. I never have to weed the area it covers. In fall, the tree leaves fall thru the plant and decompose as mulch. Deer occasionally walk into the groundcover, but never browse.

LamiastrumIn my garden now a large sweep of Lamiastrum (see photo, left) under an alder tree is beautiful in its spring bloom, the only time it does bloom, soft yellow flowers on stems long enough for cutting. A perfect echo to the other yellows brightening our often cloudy spring.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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