Minty Fresh

Calamintha nepeta along a narrow pathway in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Calamintha nepeta along a narrow pathway (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

The moment I mention growing mint to some of my gardening associates, their eyes roll back in their head and their teeth grind so hard sparks fly. I swear, even the room temperature seems to rise slightly. “They’re sloppy” one hissed, and “They just take over” another growled through her tightly clenched jaw. Honestly, I don’t know what all the fuss is about, which is why I feel compelled to stand up for these minions of mintdom. After all, what are friends for?

The silvery foliage of Mountain mint in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The silvery foliage of Mountain mint (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Given the right conditions, there are a few types of mint that can be safely introduced into your garden border without worry of a hostile takeover. I’ll admit that mint generally tends to have a wanderlust nature, but there are a couple that possess the structure and compact form we often look for in a perennial. Surprised? Don’t be. Just promise me you’ll read on with an open mind, and maybe even consider trying one of the plants I’m about to share. And stop grinding your teeth . . . have a stick of Double Mint instead . . .

Calamintha in bloom along stairway in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Calamintha in bloom along stairway (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Easily grown in well drained soil and full sun (zone 5-7), Calamintha nepeta is a compact perennial member of the mint family that is native to Europe and the Mediterranean region. The leaves are similar in shape to other members of the nepeta clan, but that is where the resemblance ends. Unlike the smoky grey velvety foliage and open, loose form of its cousins, Calamintha nepeta offers a dense, almost pruned shape with bright, kelly green foliage possessing a subtle sheen. When handled, the leaves emit a spearmint scent that makes this plant a pleasure to have along a walkway. Perfect at the front of the border or in a formal setting, Calamintha nepeta grows to about 18 inches tall and produces delicate spikes of white flowers in July, with only a quick shearing to continue the bloom through September. I have grown this miniature mint in many of my gardens for well over a decade, it has never wandered nor ceased to amaze me with its gentle tenacity.

** Love red? MONARDA is another member of the mint family, possessing fabulous flowers and scented foliage ~

Mountain mint illuminates the border in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Mountain mint illuminates the border (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Native to the moist woods and meadows of Massachusetts to Michigan, and south from Louisiana to Florida, I met mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, right around the corner in a local Connecticut garden, and it was love at first sight. Growing much taller than the common mints we’re used to, Pycnanthemum muticum reaches for the stars with 36 inches of stiff, erect structure. Yet what makes mountain mint a stellar performer of the border isn’t simply its stature, but the incredible silvery foliage and overall anatomy of the plant. Unlike many perennials with leaves that bend upward from the stem, the foliage of mountain mint is horizontal right to the top, where masses of shimmering flat petals form the ultimate landing spot for the many beneficial insects that are drawn to it. The actual flower is a circular formation of tiny, pale pink florets that are often overshadowed by the surrounding frosty glow, but are nonetheless a great source of nectar for smaller butterflies and bees. You will also enjoy the spearmint scented leaves that contain pulegone (a natural insect repellent also found in pennyroyal), which can be rubbed on the skin to repel mosquitoes! Pycnanthemum muticum likes full sun to very part shade, moist but well drained soil (zone 3-9), and may require a teensy bit of tending to prevent the occasional roamer (although I recommend giving it a little room to spread anyway).

Chocolate & Mojito mint commingle in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Chocolate (LT) & Mojito mint (RT) commingle harmoniously (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Still, I must confess to growing some of the naughty mints such as Mojito mint (Mentha x villosa), made famous originally as the favorite cocktail of Ernest Hemmingway and later, when James Bond swigged down a couple in Die Another Day. This broader, lush-leaved bully will push its way around a bit, but I have it in a designated spot where its trespasses are kept to a minimum. Another mint I mingle with Mojito is Chocolate mint, from the peppermint family (Mentha x piperita), which never fails to get a delightful sniff (truly smells like chocolate) from visitors to my garden. Chocolate mint looks like spearmint and peppermint, but has attractive tinges of bronze on the mature leaves and cocoa brown stems. Hardy to zone 3-11, this mint grows to 24 inches tall and the width is determined only by the barriers you install or how much you pull it.

Consider having a little fun with mint this summer. Try a well behaved one in your garden or keep a scoundrel in a container. Experiment with a couple and double your pleasure . . .


  1. I never knew mint could be so much fun!

  2. Elizabeth (Lizzie) says

    I looove all the mints but yeah… they go crazy on our properties, and hubby has grown to loathe them all. I will have to use container practices in the gardens we’ll be (hopefully) putting in at the farmhouse. It was great to see this post! thanks.
    (I even love creeping charlie)

    • Thank you for your comments, Lizzie. Mints do very well in containers, or a small bed that you can mow around to keep them from taking over. Raised beds also work well for a variety of herbs, including mint, and will prevent wanderlust.
      To send the article to your husband, you can use the links at the far left of the post: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Email or Share This. Or you can simply cut and paste.

  3. Elizabeth (Lizzie) says

    PS how can I print this article to show my husband ?? 😀

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