Plant of the Month for July - lamb's ears with a difference!

Hyde Hall's plant of the Month for July is a little-known but very beautiful relative of Stachys byzantina

Hyde Hall is currently awash with colour and there are many great herbaceous perennials that are in their full glory at the moment, bursting with flower.

A perennial that is not grown as widely as it should be is Stachys macrantha ‘Superba’ AGM. This plant is in the same genus as lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina) but it looks completely different. Stachys macrantha has egg-shaped, wrinkled, dark green leaves and it will slowly form a good sized clump, reaching around 60cm (2ft) tall where it is great to position at the front of a border.

During early summer erect, unbranched flowering stems emerge in dense spikes and bear unusually prominent, trumpet-shaped flowers that are up to 3-4cm (1-1.5in) long and deep pinkish-purple in colour. The species is best planted in a group where it makes a dramatic impact with the intense colour of its flowers combined with its dense flowering spikes which make a striking statement in any border. At RHS Garden Hyde Hall Stachys macrantha ‘Superba’ is used in the Modern Country Garden where it is planted in large interlocking blocks alongside Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ AGM [see this week's blog post from Wisley] and Eryngium bourgatii, both of which flower in early summer. 

Foliage interest is provided by Ageratina altissima ‘Chocolate’ with is rich purple leaves and as a foil, silver leaved artemisia (Artemisia alba ‘Canescens’ AGM) is grown amongst them. Stachys is also used in the Farmhouse Garden where its purple flower is used as a contrast to orange flowering species such as Crocosmia and Kniphofia.

Stachys macrantha is easy to grow and requires little maintenance. It prefers to be grown in an open sunny site in fertile, moisture retentive soil but it is also tolerant of shady conditions. For an easy to grow summer perennial this plant is a great choice and will make a brilliant addition to any border.

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