Tuesday, May 15, 2012

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Bastard Balm

Melittis melissophyllum 'Royal Velvet Distinction'

Meet melittis melissophyllum 'Royal Velvet Distinction.’

It has small orchid-like flowers, a regal sounding name and a plant patent. So you'd expect it to have a great pedigree, right?

Nope. Its common name is Bastard Balm. Yes, you read that right. It’s a wildflower native to the U.K. and found all over central and southern Europe. Some European garden designers apparently look down on it as a result.

As an herb, it is used to treat anxiety, wounds and kidney problems. Exactly how it got its common name is (ahem) unclear.

This particular variety is more compact and has larger flowers than the species, according to a patent filed by its developer, Eleonore de Koning of the Netherlands. The violet purple and white flower color also is different from that of its parents and the leaves are a slightly darker green.

Its flowers still bloom in whorls around the upper part of the stems, though, a particularly delightful effect.

Royal Velvet Distinction in my garden
While initial listings for this plant said it was only hardy to USDA zones 6 or 7, it’s now being grown and sold in the Chicago as zones 5 - 9. That makes sense given that it’s a member of the always vigorous mint family.

Royal Velvet Distinction gets about 18" tall by 18" wide, likes full sun or light shade, and blooms from late spring to early summer.

It attracts butterflies and, as you might suspect with a botanical name from the Greek word for honey bees, it attracts them as well.

The leaves are a bit fuzzy and smell like lemon when rubbed. They supposedly remain that way even when dried.

I’m always a sucker for fragrant plants. And it looks like it would be perfect for a woodland garden. I couldn't resist buying it recently when I discovered it at my favorite nursery. I have it planted next to some Max Frei geraniums (geranium sanguineum), Tara dwarf prairie dropseed (sporobolus heterolepsis) and a Frosted Violet coral bells (heuchera).

Granted, the flowers aren't particularly big. And from what I've found on the Internet, it may take the plant a few years to settle in before it gets particularly floriferous. I'm willing to wait, though.

If nothing else, it should be one heck of a conversation starter.

By Karen Geisler

1 comment:

  1. The typical hooded labiate flowers are borne in whorls around the stem so, from whichever angle the plant is seen, some of them look the viewer right in the eye.