by David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturalist
Growing plants of the genus Agastache (pronounced A gas' ta kee or A gas tack' e), commonly known as hummingbird mint or hyssop, has been an obsession of mine for over 25 years and counting. They have everything I love in a perennial: aromatic flowers and foliage, stunning spikes of tubular flowers that attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and they bloom in summer and fall, extending the seasons of color in my xeriscapes, and with the exception of one species (Agastache rugosum), they are North American native plants.
The Hummingbirds Mints are the superstars of my gardens. In full bloom, they are magnificent! Aglow in shades of pink, orange, lavender, and blue, these plants are like peacocks, over the top in extravagant colors. The hummingbirds are plentiful too. From dawn to dusk, they're busy sipping the Agastache flowers, thriving on the abundance of their nectar. In summer, these hyperactive little birds give my xeriscapes a frenetic energy not seen or felt at other times of the year.
A Brief History of Cultivating Agastache
At the beginning of my work with these stunning wildflowers, there was Sally Walker, owner of Southwestern Native Seeds. Based in Tucson, AZ she was very focused at that time on collecting seeds of the various Agastache species, many of them rare and not being grown in cultivation.
They are scattered across the vast territories of New Mexico, Arizona, and northern Mexico, which Sally and husband trekked across in a VW bus. My seed purchases from her company provided me with all of the best plants in the genus. And it was from these seed collections in the early 1990s, that I introduced new species and garden hybrids.
Thank goodness that the wild-collected seeds of all these incredible species appeared when I was ready to explore these fascinating plants. This would not be possible now. Many species native to northern Mexico are no longer accessible. Drug cartel control over much of the northern part of that country makes it impossibly dangerous to trek deep into rural hills and mountains in search of seed. Populations of species found north of the border in AZ, NM, and TX are more accessible but very difficult to find. Years of climate change intensified drought and habitat degradation from grazing have greatly reduced wild populations.
Learn More about Sally Walker: Plant Explorer
Through High Country Gardens, I have introduced several new Agastache to cultivate in the US, including a new species, Agastache rupestris (in 1996) and hybrids, such as 'Desert Sunrise' ®(2000) and 'Ava' (2005). My fascination with the genus is undiminished and my efforts to breed and select more cultivars and hybrids are continuing. I like to think that through my many years of growing these plants, I have gained insights and knowledge of the genus that help me to find the best species for future hybridizing and recognizing really great new plants when they appear in my test beds.