Nepeta x faassenii (mussinii of gardens, N.racemosa, N.mussinii x N.nepetella)
Nepeta x faassenii produces sprays of lavender blue flowers from mid Summer until Autumn over short mounds of grey green foliage. An excellent alternative to lavender as a short hedge, brilliant below roses and good at the front of any border. Catmint deserves its popularity as a cottage garden stalwart. Trim to keep tidy and encourage a second flowering. 50cm. Excellent for the bees. Many plants grown in the trade as Nepeta racemosa are in fact this hybrid.
‘If you set it, the cats will eat it,
If you sow it, the cats don’t know it.’
This old rhyme refers to the belief that cats will always go for a transplanted catmint, but often ignore a plant grown from seed in situ. It probably stems from a transplanted plant being more bruised and therefore releasing more scent. Whilst cats love the scent, rats abhor it and it can be used as an effective rat deterrent.
With the exception of the yellow flowered Himalayan Nepeta govaniana, which is yellow, the catmints are all a gentle blue or white and create a similar impression in the garden to a large lavender. They form low to medium sized mounds of often grey-green foliage that produces a mass of spikes of lavender blue flowers that are highly attractive to bees. They all prefer a well-drained site in full sun where they will be happy for years. Simply trim back the foliage when the flower spikes begin to look untidy and again in Spring.
Whilst all of the Nepeta are referred to as catmints, the species that the name correctly refers to is Nepeta cataria. It has a particularly minty aroma and is particularly attractive to cats. Nepeta x faassenii and Nepeta grandiflora have a similar minty smell to the leaves, with Nepeta govaniana having a smell all of its own. Nepeta subsessilis is another matter again; lovely in flower, but with foliage that smells like the cat died under it.
Nepeta derives its name from the town Nepete (now Nepi) in Italy where Catmint was once extensively cultivated.
The flowers are held in distant verticillasters, rather similar to Salvia. One of the features that distinguishes this genus is tThe 15 ribbed nature of the corolla tube.
Catmint has an old reputation both for seasoning and medicinal uses. It has been smoked in the past on account of its supposed mild hallucinogenic properties. It was said that the root chewed made even a gentle person fierce and quarrelsome. In fact, one English hangman could never bring himself to perform his duties without first chewing catnep.