Commonly known as the mint family, and formerly called labiatae, lamiaceae is a huge collection of garden plants that includes 236 genera and over 7,000 species.
Lamiaceae plants are found all over the world and many are familiar garden herbs such as lavender, basil, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary. A shared characteristic among many lamiaceae is aromatic foliage. Many plants in the mint family are grown for their culinary and medicinal properties because of the oils produced when the leaves and flowers are crushed or distilled.
Discover some of the diverse plants in the Lamiaceae family.
Lavender is one of the most popular plants in lamiaceae, bearing fragrant, evergreen, silvery-grey foliage and tiny flowers ranging in colour from purple to white or pink. There are many cultivars to choose from and most are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. Lavenders thrive in well-drained soil with plenty of sunshine and need pruning in spring and after flowering. Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, is a classic English lavender variety.
Known as mint bush, the fine, spiky leaves of prostanthera can be steeped in boiling water to make a tea, but this small Australian shrub is one of the less well-known herbs in lamiaceae. Tender in the UK, prostanthera is best grown in a pot and moved indoors for winter. Prostanthera phylicifolia is known as the ‘spiked’ mint bush. It looks similar to rosemary but has a minty fragrance and bears small pink-purple flowers in late spring and early summer.
Also known by its common name, germander, teucrium has been grown in herb and knot gardens for centuries, valued for its medicinal properties. Teucrium x lucidrys is a dwarf shrub with small, dark evergreen leaves with serrated edges. It can be grown as a small shrub or as a low, flowering hedge, perfect for edging beds or paths. It makes a good alternative in areas where box has been affected by blight.
A common ingredient in Italian food, and a great accompaniment to tomatoes, basil is a wonderful culinary herb and is best grown in a pot as a tender annual, in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. It needs a lot of heat, and the leaves should be picked regularly to ensure plenty of new growth. The flavour tends to get more bitter as the plant gets older and the stems woodier. There are many different varieties, including the attractive purple-leaved basil.
Salvia is another vast genus within lamiaceae, with around 900 plants, from the savoury herb, Salvia officinalis, to taller perennial types such as Salvia microphylla and Salvia nemorosa. These salvias are increasingly popular, with many new hybrids being developed, such as ‘Hot Lips’ and ‘Wendy’s Wish’. They’re great garden plants, not least for their long flowering season, and they’re very attractive to insects.
Catmint, nepeta, are mostly perennial plants, with soft, grey-green aromatic foliage and purple-blue flowers in summer. Loved by cats, hence the common name, nepeta varieties such as ‘Six Hills Giant’ are a popular choice for cottage-garden style plantings. The small blue flowers are great for attracting pollinating insects. With a slightly floppy habit, nepetas look good planted at the front of a border.
A wonderful plant for ground cover, ajuga, or bugle, spreads via underground runners to create a mat of evergreen leaves. It’s a good choice for growing in shady spots. Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ has attractive dark purple-green foliage and produces small spikes of purple-blue flowers in late spring. Other varieties may have larger leaves or white flowers.
Agastaches are scented perennials from North America, China and Japan, where they grow in poor, dry ground. They’re perfect for growing in gravel or Mediterranean-style gardens and may also be grown in sunny borders, or in patio containers. Agastache cana is also known as the hummingbird or mosquito plant and is native to southern USA. The fresh green foliage smells of mint when crushed.