by David Salman
Growing plants of the genus Agastache (A gas' ta kee or A gas tack' e), commonly known as hummingbird mint or hyssop, has been an obsession of mine for the last 15 years. 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.
This time of the year in my gardens, the Hummingbirds Mints are the superstars. Now in full bloom, they are magnificent! Aglow in shades of pink, orange and 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. These hyperactive little birds give my xeriscapes a frenetic energy not seen or felt at other times of the year.
Through High Country Gardens, I have introduced 7 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.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be highlighting a few of cultivars and hybrids introduced by High Country Gardens, as well as from other breeders that I think will stand the test of time.
Agastache 'Ava': a native hybrid between Agastache cana and Agastache barbari, 'Ava' was a cutting propagated from a single seedling that appeared in one of my xeriscapes more than 10 years ago. A tall, robust plant, 'Ava' inherited her height from A. barbari, a very tall species from northern Mexico. Her flowers are rose-pink that push out of raspberry-pink calyxes (the papery sheaths that hold the flowers). Blooming for 2 to 3 months, 'Ava' is unique among the Agastache because the calyxes hold their color even after the flowering is finished. This extends the season of color for the plant until knocked back by hard frost. 'Ava's only fault is that her stems can be brittle; use a peony cage or construct an enclosure with 3 or 4 bamboo stakes and some twine to protect the stems from breaking in harsh weather. When happy, this can be a very long lived perennial. The original plant is still growing in my garden!Text and Photos by David Salman
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