On Gardening: Black Adder is the star of butterfly season

November 11, 2014
The spikey dark blue bottlebrush like flowers of the Black Adder agastache bring in numerous butterflies like these Eastern Tiger Swallowtails.

Black Adder is bring in butterflies like there is no tomorrow. The anise hyssop has been one of my favorite perennials for years not only for the bottlebrush-like spikes of blue flowers but also for attracting every bee and butterfly in the neighborhood. Iíve treasured Blue Fortune and Honey Bee Blue, but now that we are in peak butterfly season in Savannah, Ga., it is Black Adder that has captured my heart.

We planted Blue Fortune first and they did everything we wanted. But I jumped at the opportunity when I had a chance to get a flat of the Black Adders. We put them in our daylily garden, where I parented them not only with daylilies but society garlic, Kimís Knee High Echinacea and Silky Gold asclepias. The marriage has been absolutely heavenly.

Black Adder is similar to Blue Fortune in that it is an anise hyssop hybrid. The parents are the U.S. native Agastache foeniculum and the Korean Agastache rugosa. The resulting cross is an award winner in my opinion and should become your must-have plant for the future.

Herb lovers have been growing anise hyssop for years and relishing not only its culinary properties but its beauty and tough nature. Beekeepers and connoisseurs treasure the honey produced from anise hyssop, and this cross keeps all of the great traits from both parents. Iíve noticed that as I walk this garden I do get more of the fragrance permeating the air. It is very pleasing and even more so when I take the opportunity to take some cut flowers or even do a little deadheading.

Botanically speaking Agastache is related to other well-known garden plants like salvia and coleus. It is hardy from zones 3 to 9 meaning virtually everyone can grow it. The staggering temperatures that we experienced this summer only seemed to make the plant bloom better.

Black Adder seems a little more compact in habit, reaching 24 to 30 inches tall plus. With this height try grouping them in informal drifts, letting them serve as a terrific partners for the complementary orange and gold gloriosa daisies. Pink, purple and blue will look equally stunning. Our partnership with echinacea and milkweeds has kept us in a state of butterfly feeding frenzy.

Select a site in full sun for best blooming and to keep the plants compact and better branched. The soil should be fertile and well drained. Wet feet will spell doom for the anise hyssop during the winter, so incorporate organic matter to loosen the soil or plant on raised beds. Consider planting after the last spring frost, in full sun spacing 18 to 24 inches apart.

Though the plant is drought tolerant, watering during prolonged dry periods will pay dividends with added flower production. If you have an established clump, feed with spring growth using a light application of a slow-release, fertilizer. Another application in mid-summer will keep the plants at peak for the fall.

Black Adder responds well to any cutting back, so feel free to do so if the plants begin to look a little leggy or you simply wish they were bushier. Itís funny the branches I cut always go unnoticed by others.

Black Adder is a great choice for cottage gardens, herb gardens and the butterfly garden or backyard wildlife habitat. Despite their being such persevering beautiful perennials, they are not astaple at garden centers. Start your search now, and you will be ready for spring.



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