Plant of the Week: Walker’s Low Persian catmint

Nepeta racemosa is an herbaceous perennial native to the Caucasus, Turkey and Iran. Purple flowers bloom on spikes from late spring through fall and are loved by hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects. Cats are also interested in this plant! The leaves and stems of Nepeta racemosa, and other Nepeta varieties contain nepetalactone, an oil which when vaporized can trigger a varied responses in cats, causing them to become anything from mellow to aggressive. This response is not limited to domestic cats – leopards, lions and other big cats also have been documented to react to forms of catmint.

Despite its name, 'Walker's Low' can achieve a substantial height, growing up to 30 inches tall. It's a highly versatile hardy plant that makes a fine addition to a garden in a wide range of growing conditions.

Photo by Ayinde Listhrop

Aside from its ornamental usage, mint has had a colorful history across many cultures around the world. In Ancient Rome, mint represented high spirits and festivity. It was frequently used to don the tables of their celebrations and banquets. Its believed that the Romans helped to spread mint across Europe as they marched on their conquest to Britain. From there it found its way to the Americas with explorers and settlers.

As well as having many physical uses, mint found its way into Greek mythology and many interesting stories can be found involving it. According to Greek lore, two strangers were visiting a village but were met with hostility and distrust by all except for an old couple who invited the strangers in, offered them food and lodging. Before dining, the couple rubbed their table with mint giving it a clean scent. After receiving the couple's good will, the strangers revealed themselves to be Zeus and Hermes. The couple's home was transformed into a temple and mint became a symbol of friendship and kindness.

The word mint itself also has great tales behind it. According to lore, "Mint" alludes to a wood nymph called Menthe. Menthe was dazzled by Pluto, (Hades) and attempted to seduce him (or vice versa), much to the disgust of his wife Persephone. Persephone cursed Menthe to a life as a ground dwelling plant, so that she would be walked on and ground into the dirt. Pluto, unable to break the curse, granted her the ability to sweeten the air when her leaves were bruised. And so mint was born.

"Racemosa" refers to the racemes of flowers. Racemes are a form of inflorescences in which the flowers are set on short stalks about equal length and distance along a stem. Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Nepeta is the genus of flowering plants of the Lamiaceae family known as catmints. Lamiaceae, the mint family, are characterized as having square stems, a strong scent and somewhat cordate (heart shaped) leaves. Many species of Sage also belong to the Lamiaceae family. Plants of the Lamiaceae family have had cultural impacts all over the world, a testament to their usefulness, beauty, hardiness and elegance. Stories of their usage span the continents across the ages. They've been used in medicine for thousands of years, and are still used today in modern times to treat many aliments including insomnia, upset stomachs, headaches and muscular tension.

Salvia pratensis 'Pink Delight' and Salvia azurea are part of the Lamiaceae family as well. Just as Nepeta racemosa, they feature square stems and a distinct aroma when bruised. Photo by Ayinde Listhrop.

Nepeta racemosa is a very low maintenance plant. Loves full sun and well-draining soils but could can still do well if conditions aren't optimal. Nepeta can be prone to rapid spreading and seeding so some manner of control may be necessary. The seeds of 'Walker's Low,' however, are sterile, so propagation must be done by dividing the plant. Will become tolerant of drought and heat once established. Resistant to most pests and diseases.

USDA zone 4-8.

You can see Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' in the Meadow walk between 24th and 25th streets.

The High Line's planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 500 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line's rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today. Every week we share one of our gardeners' current favorites with you

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects.

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