Margaret Lauterbach

Lamb’s Ear is perennial of the year, for lots of good reasons

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

The perennial plant of the year has been named, and it’s Stachys “Hummelo” – pronounced stack-is hummelo, I think. It’s also called alpine betony, or more commonly, Lamb’s Ear. It was chosen because it endures a wide range of temperatures and moisture, is not bothered by a lot of pests or diseases, and is bee-friendly.

Lamb’s Ear is hardy to zones four to eight, and thrives in full sun or part shade. I grow the subspecies, lanata, whose broad furry-looking leaves are white. It would be a very good plant for a gardener with failing eyesight, for the furry leaves are tangibly different from other types of leaves. The regular Lamb’s Ear and the lanata version have magenta flowers appearing on spikes in midsummer. Flowers produce seeds that birds or rodents may distribute. Occasionally another Lamb’s Ear appears in another part of the yard, so it can spread, but it isn’t an aggressive spreader. I’ve had it planted next to the foundation on the south side of my house for about 30 years.

The Perennial Plant Association began selecting a “perennial plant of the year” in 1990. Candidates must be low maintenance, suitable to grow in various climates, and provide several years of ornamental interest. That association claims that Lamb’s Ear pairs beautifully with Echinacea purpurea and Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed); others claim it’s spectacular with Mexican feather grass.

Echinacea is a desirable addition to the ornamental garden or the herb bed. It’s native to America, and was widely used as a medicinal herb first by Native Americans, and then by herbalists and even an early day pharmaceutical manufacturer. Herbalists still grow and use it for its many healing properties. The main parts of the plant used are the roots. They were used to heal wounds, “purify blood,” and treat bee stings, poisonous snake bites, tumors, gangrene, eczema, hemorrhoids, syphilis, upset stomach and many other ailments.

Echinacea, too, grows well in ordinary garden soil and is fairly drought tolerant. It’s easily started from seed, if you wait until air temperature is at least 70 degrees before sowing. It grows to one to 2 feet in height. It’s pretty easy to grow, and is hardy to zones 3-9 (we’re allegedly USDA zone 7, but until this winter, zone 6 was more accurate). Daisy-like flower petals surround a conelike center.

Asclepias tuberosa, or butterfly bush, is also a native of America, blooms yellow to orange, and does attract butterflies. Not particular about soil, it likes good drainage and is tolerant to drought. Grown from seed, it may take three years to bloom. Grows one to 2 1/2 feet in height, with a girth of about 18 inches. It’s hardy to USDA zones 3 to 9, and blooms most of the summer.

That Mexican feather grass is pretty and has a gracefully fine texture, but beware – it’s a thug. It’s very drought tolerant, a fact assisting it in growing almost anywhere in your yard.

Send garden questions to (new email address) or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.