I’m assuming even you tree people (aka other
Garden Professors) are familiar with the soft, silvery leaves of Stachys
byzantina or Lamb’s Ear (variously Lamb Ears and Lamb’s Ears). Not to
disparage S. byzantina, but in our part of the world it looks like a
pile of wet dryer lint in the winter; and can become similarly
disfigured during a hot, wet summer. Spring brings bright,
pet-able new ears, followed by woolly flower spikes that could serve as
Q-tips for Shrek. Runs/reseeds like a banshee in my home garden.
Dr. Allan Armitage notes, “We’ve been lamb-eared to death.”
But there are several other species of
garden-worthy Stachys, one of which is garnering lots of attention in
our campus garden at the moment. Behold, Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ – Wood Betony or Alpine
Also sold under S.
officinalis and S. densiflora. Most nurseries seemed to have settled on
S. monieri, but that specific epithet does not appear in the ITIS
(Integrated Taxonomic Information Systems) database. Armitage lists it as a cultivar
of S. officinalis and then has S. monieri as a separate species.
Regardless of pedigree, ‘Hummelo’ is a terrific perennial.
Clumps of glossy green scallop-edged foliage are topped with
spikes of rosy-lavender flowers throughout the summer. Heat- and
cold-tolerant; it’s hardy from Zones 4 to 8. Full sun or part shade,
drought tolerant, deer resistant…what’s not to like?
Back to the ubiquitous version of lamb’s ear…we
have a superior selection of S. byzantina with the fabulous cultivar
name of ‘Countess Helene von Stein’. Rarely flowers, and has bigger, tougher leaves that hang in there regardless of humidity. Very effective
when barked at students with a Teutonic accent: “Countess Helene von
Shtein! You vill learn dis plahnt!” You may find this in
the U.S. under the comparatively boring ‘Big Ears’.