Garden & Landscape Tips

Betony 'Hummelo' sends up flower spikes from June through September.
Betony 'Hummelo' sends up flower spikes from June through September.
George Weigel
'Hummelo's' pinkish-lavender flower spikes look much like salvia.
'Hummelo's' pinkish-lavender flower spikes look much like salvia.
George Weigel

Each year, members of the Perennial Plant Association vote to highlight one perennial plant that deserves more use in our gardens. The pick has to be easy to grow, cold-hardy throughout most of the country, resistant to bugs and disease, and attractive over a long period of time. The winner of the group’s 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year award is a betony called ‘Hummelo.’

Betony is a little-known species – at least not as well known as its cousin, lamb’s ears.   Unlike that silvery-gray, fuzzy-leafed perennial, betony has thin, corrugated green leaves and flower spikes of pinkish-lavender. It looks more like salvia than lamb’s ear. ‘Hummelo’ has been around since German grower Ernst Pagels introduced it in the late 1990s, but it’s only now being heralded in American garden centers. Plants grow in nearly foot-tall mounds, sending up a steady supply of those slender, leafless, pinkish-lavender flower spikes from June through September. The flowers rise 10 to 12 inches above the leaf clumps. ‘Hummelo’ does best in full sun to light shade and is rated for use in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8. It prefers damp soil, although it’s tough enough to grow through hot, dry spells.

Pollinators are drawn to the flowers, but deer, rabbits, and rodents apparently don’t like the taste. Plants can be divided early each spring to make new plantings or to give to friends. In season, spent flower stems can be snipped off to neaten the plants and to encourage continuing bloom. Stems also can be cut just as they’re reaching peak bloom to use in bouquets.

Besides winning 2019 Perennial Plant of the Year honors, ‘Hummelo’ won a 2019 Gold Medal from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and was the top-scoring variety in a Chicago Botanic Garden trial of betony and related species. It joins such past Perennial Plant of the Year winners as salvia ‘May Night,’ phlox ‘David,’ coreopsis ‘Moonbeam,’ threadleaf bluestar, and the geraniums ‘Biokovo’ and Rozanne®. ‘Hummelo’ gets its name from the hometown of famed Dutch plant designer and author Piet Oudolf.

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