The Perennial Plant Association certainly knows how to choose a winner! Year after year, its Perennial of the Year campaign hits the nail right on the head: picking out a truly exceptional perennial that has proven itself worthy of praise, yet which somehow seems to have fallen through the cracks of plant stardom. Just think of some of the past winners, now all classic garden perennials, plants gardeners can scarcely imagine gardening without, like Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, Geranium Rozanne and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’. And it’s worth noting that perennials of the year have all been “garden tested” and found worthy. Indeed, they are never new introductions: they have to have been on the market for many years before being added to the list of 400 potential winners proposed annually.
To win fame as a Perennial of the Year, the plant must:
• Be adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions;
• Require little maintenance;
• Offer good resistance to pests and diseases;
• Be widely available on the market;
• Offer several seasons of ornamental interest.
This Year’s Winner
This year, the winner is Stachys ‘Hummelo’, also called ‘Hummel’ betony, and it’s certainly an excellent choice. It’s been available pretty much everywhere since it was launched in the 1990s by the late German hybridizer Ernst Pagels (he died in 2007 at the age of 93), yet, although many people have grown it and recommended it over the years, myself included, it never really became popular. That will now change!
Ernst Pagels did not live long enough to see his hybrid win the Perennial of the Year award. Photo: www.gaissmayer.de
The name ‘Hummelo’ was given in honor of the great Dutch landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, whose garden is in Hummelo, the Netherlands. And there’s also a bit of a play on words, as Hummel is German for bumblebee and bumblebees certainly do love it.
Stachys ‘Hummelo’ is a moderately sized perennial with many erect stems each carrying a single flower spike (Stachys comes from the Greek word for spike) of purplish-pink flowers that often last two months, from June to August in most climates. The small tubular flowers open into two lips, a characteristic trait of the plants in the Lamiaceae (mint family) to which it belongs.
The foliage of Stachys ‘Hummelo’ is also attractive. The long narrow leaves are beautifully textured with a scalloped border. They are semi-evergreen, which means they remain green all winter long in milder climates. In colder climates, however, they’re usually killed back by the cold … but then regenerate in the spring like the leaves of most other perennials do.
Expect your Stachys ‘Hummelo’ to reach about 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) in height and diameter over the first 3 to 4 years. The plant will expand, however, and can even be used as a groundcover, although if so, you’d do best to plant it densely to start with because its lateral growth is slow. It will never be weedy, but you may need to divide it every 4 or 5 years to slow its expansion.
Easy to Grow
Stachys ‘Hummelo’ prefers full sun, but tolerates partial shade. It adapts to almost all well-drained soils: dry to quite humid, rich to poor, acidic to alkaline. The plant is quite drought-resistant as well, at least once established, although not enough so to make it a good choice for a xerophytic garden.
It forms a dense clump that chokes out weeds as it increases in diameter and it’s generally considered deer, rabbit and hare resistant. If fact, the plant essentially takes care of itself: an ideal plant for laidback gardeners!
Finally, Stachys ‘Hummelo’ is very cold hardy, to USDA zone 3 (AgCan zone 4). It needs a reasonably cold winter, though, and won’t thrive in climates warmer than zone 8.
Stachys ‘Hummelo’: once you’ve discovered it, you won’t want to garden without it!