Stop...and Smell the Mints — A Glimpse into the Mint Family of Plants: Lamiaceae
by Randy Collins
Outskirts Press: 2019
Randy Collins was surprised when he got hooked on horticulture. Gardening wasn’t a regular pastime during his career spanning 29 years with IBM and 15 years as a small business financial consultant. But when retirement arrived, a friend talked him into master gardener training through Indiana’s Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. In the foreword to his book, Stop...and Smell the Mints, Collins notes that “it was such a refreshing experience getting my hands dirty.”
A move to South Carolina taught him how different gardening could be in another region of the nation. Both states have hot, humid summers, but the South Carolina soil was sandy in contrast to Indiana loam. And he had never before experienced how deer could devastate a home landscape.
The invasion of South Carolina’s white tailed deer led to another discovery. Although they occasionally nibbled on mint family plants (Lamiaceae), “[m]any plants in this family were not eaten quite as often.” Salvias, he noticed, were among the greatest survivors. Not only did they withstand the four-legged trespassers but also the sandy soil that he improved with compost. Many Salvias are adaptable to a wide range of soils, but they need good drainage — something gritty soils easily provide.
The mint family contains 7,000 species of which Salvias (true sages versus closely related species like sagebrush) comprise the largest genus. They also form the largest chapter for a single genus in Stop...and Smell the Mints. Collins calls the Salvia genus the “champion” of the mint family. He details dozens of species as well as their popular varieties and hybrids. Some examples include Salvia amplexicaulis (Stem Clasping Violet Sage), S. Mexicana (Mexican Sage), S. oxyphora (Fuzzy Bolivian Sage or Bolivian Spearhead Sage), and S. x ‘Wendy’s Wish’ (Wendy’s Wish Sage).
Collins’ book is a particularly useful resource for Salvia gardeners who need to become better acquainted with other types of mint family plants, which are great companions for sages. The author covers 33 genera ranging from Agastache (Anise Hyssop) to Rosmarinus (Rosemary) to Vitex agnus-castus (Chastetree or Southern Lilac).
Other sections of the book offer tips about topics such as:
In its title alone, Stop...and Smell the Mints captures one of the most distinctive characteristics of mint family plants — the captivating (and occasionally unpleasant) fragrance of their foliage. The title also reminds readers that there is great value in taking time to relax amid the beauty of gardens.
The FBTS Everything Salvias Blog asked Randy Collins, author of Stop...and Smell the Mints, about mint family plants he finds particularly helpful in the Southeast. Experienced Salvia gardeners usually have a go-to list of sages that work well for them, but which vary by region and climate. Collins lives in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8 in Aiken County, South Carolina, where summers are hot and humid.
FBTS: What are your top Salvias for South Carolina growing conditions?
COLLINS: These are favorites that I call my "Dirty Dozen":
In the midlands of South Carolina where we live, the average [daytime] temperatures from late spring until early fall hover around 90 degrees F. Because of this extreme heat, many Salvia species labeled “full sun” appreciate afternoon shade. These include S. coccinea, S. farinacea, S. greggii, and S. guaranitica.
FBTS: What are some reliable mint family plants for withstanding dampness, humidity, and heat?COLLINS: My top choices are:
FBTS: What is your favorite activity as a master gardener?
COLLINS: My favorites in the last few years have been giving talks to various organizations. I have several Power Point presentations that I use for garden clubs, master gardener gatherings, and other groups. I also enjoy holding annual garden walks at our home that are open to the public. Sure, I get to brag, but I also receive many new ideas.
FBTS: What is your next big project?
COLLINS: Outside of my book promotion, I guess my next big project is preparation for our garden walk in September. I try to have the garden looking shipshape and label most of the plants. My current challenge is in dealing with a stubborn little weed called Phyllanthus urinaria (Chamberbitter). This weed cannot be tamed by man! As you pull it up, the little seeds under the leaves drop into the soil. The key is to remove the weed before it matures with seed.