Every year since 1990, the Perennial Plant Association has selected one perennial as its Perennial Plant of the Year. To be chosen for the honor, plants must grow in a wide range of climates, require little maintenance, be relatively free of pest and disease problems, and have multiple seasons of interest.
Past winners have included perennial greats such as “Magnus” coneflower, “Becky” Shasta daisy and “Northwind” switchgrass. This year, the designation went to Stachys monieri “Hummelo.”
It is related to lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), known for its soft and fuzzy, silvery gray leaves and often planted in children’s gardens to be stroked by inquisitive fingers. But S. monieri “Hummelo” looks quite different. Instead of its family’s characteristic wooly gray foliage, it has attractive, glossy and crinkled, long and narrow, dark green leaves that grow in ground-hugging rosettes barely a foot tall and a bit wider. Over time, plants spread to form a dense mat of weed-choking foliage.
And also unlike lamb’s ear, whose flowers are often removed so they don’t distract from the uniquely colored and textured foliage, S. monieri “Hummelo” presents show-stopping spikes of brilliant, reddish-purple flowers on sturdy stems up to 2 feet tall in summer. Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators love the flowers as much as we do.
Spent blooms should be deadheaded to keep plants looking tidy and to prompt another round of blooms a few weeks later. The second round of flowers may be left standing for winter interest or cut down during fall clean up.
Grow S. monieri “Hummelo” in moist, but well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. Although it prefers consistently moist soil, it is drought tolerant in my garden.
It is rarely bothered by insects or diseases, and deer and rabbits don’t find it appetizing.
This prize-winning perennial is beautiful for edging the front of a border, as a specimen in a rock garden or massed as a ground cover.
If you are not yet convinced to add a few S. monieri “Hummelo’” to your garden, maybe the Chicago Botanic Garden could persuade you. In its Plant Evaluation Trials from 1998 to 2004, it was the highest rated Stachys for its strong flower production, plant vigor, the quality of its habit and cold hardiness.
Diana Stoll is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. The “Learning to Grow” column runs weekly during warmer months of the year. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information. Feedback on this column can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.