Dusty Lavenders

Nepeta faassenii

My Nepeta faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’ (Catmint) is beginning to look a little ragged now after its first flush of bloom that began in June. For the rest of the summer it will still maintain its graceful, relaxed habit that is so effective at softening walkways and driveways when it is allowed to spill over the pavement, and it will probably have a modest second blooming later in the summer once I trim it back a bit this weekend. The airy, serrated, gray-green leaves will still add texture to my garden, but I must say that–at least from a distance–the flowers now look more dusty lavender than blue-lavender.

Many flowers fade in color after peak bloom, but especially lavenders and pinks. Normally, I consider this change to be part of their charm, part of the ever-changing nature of the garden. The reason I’m noticing the dusty hue right now is that my Perovskia (Russian sage) has been in full bloom for the past week, and its fresh blue-lavender color is making the Nepeta look washed out. Unfortunately, this is my small, front yard garden, so I don’t have the luxury of moving plants around; but if I could, I would make sure that the Nepeta was far enough away from the Perovskia that the difference in color was not so noticeable. So that’s my garden design tip of the day:  make sure that the soft, faded colors aren’t overwhelmed by similarly colored flowers that are fresh and vibrant.

Lavender is a such a soothing addition to a garden border, especially as the days get hotter. As a pastel color, it  has the advantage of receding visually, compared with stronger colors. Consequently, if you want a small garden to appear larger, using soft colors will create that illusion.

Lavender and purple happen to be the colors most preferred by bees, followed by blue hues. Anthocyanins, which are responsible for the red color of many plants, are also responsible for creating purples and blues and are known to be part of a plant’s arsenal for attracting pollinators. Apparently, lavender (or violet) colored flowers  provide bees with the most nectar. A study at the Queen Mary School of the University of London showed that bees that preferred violet flowers harvested 41% more nectar than bees that preferred blue flowers. Researchers  believe that it was the flowers, over thousands of years, that developed their colors (and probably their shapes, as well) to appeal specifically to certain pollinators, rather than the pollinators adapting to take advantage of particular plants. So if you need a few extra pollinators for your vegetables, try planting some lavender flowers nearby to see if that doesn’t ring the dinner bell for the bees.

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