The Other Stachys

Stachys and Friend in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Stachys and Friend (photo: Kathy Diemer)

We’re all familiar with the popular lamb’s ears or Stachys byzantina, but not as many know about its distant cousin, purple betony (or bishop’s wort) or Stachys officinalis.  Actually, other than the name, they look nothing alike.  Where byzantina has soft, frosty grey leaves (especially attractive with ‘Helen Von Stein’) officinalis has smaller, dark green oval shaped leaves with scalloped edges.  And it’s those interesting leaves, with rounded edges like an embroidered collar, that I find so attractive at the front of the border.  Of course, the rich pinkish purple spikes (in some ways similar to salvia) are an added bonus.

Stachys officinalis in the Border in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Stachys officinalis in the Border (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Although native to Europe and Asia, Stachys officinalis has made itself quite at home in zones 4-8 with full sun exposure.  In this way she is like her cousin; loving sun and tolerating pretty tough soil conditions and drought.  And though either stachys is a phenomenal plant for the front of the border, I find officinalis looks better at the end of the season, where byzantina may have lots of browned leaves and thinned out spots.  Purple betony will often rebloom if sheared after the first bloom in June, and the foliage below creates a compact mound that is quite handsome when combined with other leaf forms and textures.

A Pleasant Surprise in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A Pleasant Surprise (photo: Kathy Diemer)

The flower display is very showy in early summer, with dozens of erect stems around 18″ high displaying colorful violet pillars that bees and butterflies find irresistible (and the deer-not so much).  If given room to spread, they will gently encroach further along the border, but are just as likely to seed and show up in other locations around the garden.  When this occurs, you may find a few white offspring as well as other medium purple blossoms, which I consider a pleasant surprise.

Stachys Scalloped Leaves in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Stachys officinalis’ scalloped leaves (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Other than a shear after the first bloom (if desired), there really isn’t any maintenance for these easy going stachys.  Give them a bright spot near the front of your border (since they only grow to about 18″ to 24″), make sure they have enough moisture to get established, then sit back and admire the beautiful scene you have created for both yourself and the native insects to enjoy.

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A Garden for All