Plant Profile: Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)

I love Agastache. Plain and simple, I love them. What’s not to love? They attract bees and butterflies, are extremely drought tolerant, and bloom all season. That’s about all that you can ask for in a perennial.

Agastache foeniculum, in particular, is a knockout perennial. It has lavender-purple blooms that start in May and continue all season. The blooms are held on upright spikes above the 3′ tall fragrant foliage. The fragrant foliage is a deterrent to deer. That’s another tick mark on the plus side of the equation for growing Agastache. Bees and butterflies are drawn to Agastache like a moth to a flame. It is truly a magnet for all types of our six-legged friends including beneficial insects that take care of the nasties that want to decimate our gardens.



Look at that little guy…so happy to be in the vegetable garden eating and pollinating all at the same time. These are plants that I grew from seed last year and they are ginormous this year. They’ve already been blooming for weeks and will continue for months more. Have I mentioned that I love Agastache?

There are a few cultural conditions to keep in mind when growing Agastache. The first is the soil. Agastache are native to dry areas with poor soil. Don’t plant them where the soil is too rich or they’ll end up all floppy. They won’t die but they won’t be impressive either. Also, don’t plant them in wet soil. They must have well-drained soil and they actually prefer droughty conditions once they are established. You can water them but you may force too much top growth and then you end up with the floppiness issue again. Their last cultural requirement is sun. They can tolerate a tiny bit of shade but they prefer the fullest of sun. You almost can’t give them too much sun. Agastache is hardy to Zone 4.

One other thing to keep in mind when planting Agastache foeniculum is that they reseed readily. You can expect to have many more baby Agastache next year surrounding your original plants. They are easy enough to remove if you don’t need anymore but why not give them to your gardening friends or transplant them around the garden. If your garden beds are filling up and you have a veggie garden, move a few out there. Your cucumbers and tomatoes will thank you!

Have you grown Agastache in your garden? What are your opinions? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. I’d love to share your experiences with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!





Plant Profile: Salvia ‘May Night’

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite perennials: Salvia ‘May Night’. Officially, the Latin name is Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ but it usually goes by Salvia ‘May Night’, May Night Sage or just May Night. It is one of those plants that belong in every garden, unless you have a shady garden like me. Salvia ‘May Night’ prefers full sun but it can survive in some dappled shade. It can survive the hottest of hot areas and actually prefers the heat. It is very drought tolerant once established and it’s only requirement regarding moisture is that you not give it too much. It will reach 18″-24″ tall by 24″ wide over time so it makes a perfect plant for the front of the border.

Salvia ‘May Night’ begins blooming in April and the blooms just keep on coming until frost. This picture was taken just about a week ago.

salvia may night

As with most long blooming perennials, it will provide the best show if it is kept deadheaded but you don’t have to fret about this. If you are a lazy gardener like me, just wait until most of the blooms are spent and then cut all of the bloom stalks off. Simple enough.

When and if you deadhead your Salvia ‘May Night’, you may have to shoo away the bumble bees and honey bees. They absolutely love it. Your plants will be covered with bees and some butterflies too. If you want to attract beneficials to your garden, Salvia ‘May Night’ is an excellent choice.

The only drawback to May Night, if you can call it one, is that the foliage smells…well…urineferous. That’s a word that I learned from Dr. Niemeira at Virginia Tech; he used it to describe the blooms of boxwood. Yep, the foliage smells like pee. There’s really no other way to put it. But unless you make a habit of rubbing the foliage, you won’t even notice it. There is one creature with a better nose than us that will notice the smell though: deer. Deer generally steer clear of plants with smelly foliage like herbs and in this case, Salvia ‘May Night’.

The foliage is semi-evergreen in Virginia. It’s there for most of the winter but eventually it starts to look pretty crispy as the winter wears on. I wouldn’t grow Salvia ‘May Night’ for its winter foliage but I would grow it for the other 9 months of the year when it shines in the garden. It’s hardy to Zone 5 so it should be a long lived, reliable perennial in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Let me know if you have experience with Salvia ‘May Night’ by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at Happy gardening!

April 11, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Reader Question: Butterfly Garden


Today’s Reader Question is from Sheryl in Rockville, Maryland:

I’d like some advice on planting a butterfly garden. I have a butterfly bush and its covered with butterflies in the summer. I’d like to expand the border to include other plants that they would like. Thanks for your help in advance.

Great question Sheryl! Butterflies are such fun to watch in the garden as they flit from flower to flower engorging themselves on nectar. Let’s take a look at some of the plants that they particularly enjoy and then we’ll look at some other items that you can add to entice them.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) – you already have the grandaddy of them all to attract butterflies. They come in many different colors including white, pink, yellow and purple. There are dwarf varieties that are as short as 3′ and taller varieties that can reach to 8′ tall.
  • butterfly garden

    Butterfly Weed

    Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – this plant often grows on the edges of ditches and needs dry soil. If you enjoy bright orange flowers, this is the plant for you. Just be aware that they are very late to emerge in the spring…it’s often May before they fully emerge from their winter dormancy.

  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – while it may be in the same genus as Butterfly Weed, its cultural requirements are completely different. While Swamp Milkweed will perform well in average soil, it is at home in wet conditions. Its blooms can be pink or white. Monarch butterfly larvae will completely strip the leaves from the plants but the reward of adult butterflies make it completely worthwhile.
  • Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium, E. maculatum, E. rugosum) – there are many different species of Eupatorium that butterflies adore. There blooms can be mauve pink, rose or white. Joe Pye Weed’s cultural needs are similar to Swamp Milkweed…they can tolerate average soils but thrive in wet conditions.
  • Hardy Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) – the same conditions as Joe Pye and Swamp Milkweed prevail with Hardy Ageratum. If you’re a fan of the little annual ageratum, you’ll love the tall blooms of this plant. They come in blue and white but they self seed like crazy so be sure that you want lots of them before you plant the first one.
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp.) – butterflies adore catmint’s purple flowers. Catmint can range in size from 12″ to 36″ depending on the cultivar you select. Catmint is very long blooming.
  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – so much breeding has taken place with coneflowers that its mindblowing. It used to be that coneflowers were either white or pink…now they can be white, pink, orange, red, yellow or green. Regardless of the color, butterflies love them.
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – parsley is an important larval food for butterflies so make sure you plant some clumps just for them. See my link for more information on parsley in general.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of perennials that attract butterflies but it is guaranteed to bring them in by the droves. Here are a few other ideas to keep them coming back for more.

  • Plant a pot of mint and sit in the garden. Never, ever, never plant mint directly in your garden unless you want a garden of mint and mint only. The flowers are adored by our winged friends.
  • Take a terra cotta saucer and fill it with sand. If you keep the sand moist, the butterflies will use it as a watering hole. If you’ve ever witnessed butterflies drinking from the sand along a lake or river, you can appreciate how much they enjoy these sips of salty water.
  • Place a few large stones or concrete statuary in the garden so that the butterflies have a place to warm their wings in the early morning.

butterfly garden

Sheryl, I hope that you can take these ideas and use them to enhance your butterfly garden. An added bonus of creating a butterfly garden is that bees and beneficials will find comfort in your landscape and help you keep your pest population in check. I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers regarding plants that attract butterflies. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

February 16, 2012Permalink 4 Comments