Mountain mint

I love plant swaps and gardening listservs. It’s so much fun to share plants you need to divide, and to acquire new plants to try.

This week I came into two containers of mountain mint, Pycnanthemum sp. I don’t know what species I have, but I suspect it may be Pycnanthemum muticum, or short-toothed mountain mint. It’s about 3 feet tall, with silvery, slightly serrated leaves an inch to an inch and a half long. Small, buttonlike bracts just above the leaves hold the flowers, which are white, I understand. The plant had finished flowering when I acquired it.  It smells pungently of mint–much stronger than the culinary mint I grow in containers–and is attractive to bees and butterflies. It is actually more closely related to the Monardas than the Menthas, and the resemblance between their respective leaves and bracts is quite plain.

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The woman who shared it with me warned me that it might be another to keep in a container, because it took over her own backyard (classic behavior of both Menthas and Monardas). Her soil is much nicer than mine, though; fluffy and rich, if the material in the pot is anything to go by. I am wary of the possibility of swapping one assertive species for another, but I planted it in the back of the garden where the heavy rains this year have made the English ivy encroaching from the carrot lady‘s yard go berserk. The soil there is positively unimproved, so if the mountain mint shows signs of thriving, I may dig it up and replant it in a sunken container with the bottom cut out.

Bring on the butterflies and bees!


Mental hardscaping

I have longed for a fence made of Corten steel for more than 10 years. I wanted this fence before I had a garden to put it in.

Corten steel fence in Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden

Corten is a brand name of a kind of weathering steel made by US Steel. Weathering steel is a steel alloy that forms a protective coating as it rusts. It is often used in public sculptures, but my favorite application is in edgy landscaping installations.

carrot evidenceI feel my need for a fence increasing as (unnecesary) development nearby pushes more and more wildlife–particularly deer–into our neighborhood. When we moved here ten years ago, I never saw deer; now, while they’re not quite commonplace, they’re certainly more visible than in the past. It doesn’t help that my back-door neighbor seems to be leaving carrots on her lawn, in what I can only assume is a misguided attempt to lure them. They are pretty, I admit (the deer, not the carrots).

So if I’m going to be saving my pennies for a fence, I may as well look into the cost of Corten and see if it’s as pie-in-the-sky as I suspect it may be. If it is, I’ll be looking into other creative options besides the standard offerings from the big-box home improvement store.

Tom Stuart-Smith is one of my favorite landscape architects, and his projects often employ Corten steel to provide a delicious tension between modernism and naturalism. For a visual feast, check out his portfolio at his website,