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Drought-resistant germanders are ideal for any garden

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Drought-resistant, deer-resistant, low-maintenance, bee-friendly, beauty in leaf and flower, easy to grow, tough, long-lived: these sturdy adjectives aptly describe the genus teucrium, common name germander.

Shrubs or ground covers, there is a teucrium for almost every situation. For our area there is hardly a group of more versatile and useful plants, except perhaps salvias.

Teucriums are not as showy as salvias, and rather than being grown purely for superbly flamboyant or vivid bloom, these tough beauties are far more understated in appearance, relying instead on delicately expressed gray, white or handsome leaf color or form to carry the season.

They easily settle in tough situations where other plants may fail to grow. However, all flower profusely, and the blooms are absolute bee favorites.

Teucriums originate in dry regions of the Mediterranean region, Middle East and North Africa and are in the family Lamiaceae — the mint family, one particularly attractive to bees. But unlike mint that sends shivers down our gardening spines, teucriums are well-behaved and don’t spread by underground rhizomes.

Most are perennials, subshrubs or shrubs. Many offer superb foliage as well as flowers and can be used as feature plants, hedges, ground covers or good lawn substitute plants.

The natural garden or the more formal are both places for these plants.

Teucrium fruticans. If silver balls, hedges or other geometric forms appeal to you, this is a great plant. The leaves are small and pointed, and the plants lend themselves to being shaped.

In fact, the plant is really best shaped, as this easily limits plants size and improves the shape that can be untidy otherwise when untrimmed.

The species plant grows to about 6 feet tall if unpruned. Cultivars grow more densely and are often smaller.

The stems are white, as are the bottom of the leaves, making the whole plant glow. Silvery-blue flowers are present for months at a time. When pruned, the plant is used effectively in naturalistic plantings as a formal contrast and to offer year-round interest.

If you tire of its present shape and want new geometric decor, or the plant is old and looks scraggly with over-mature growth mixed with fresh, you can cut the whole thing to the ground and it will spring back with fresh gray growth.

There are a couple of superior cultivars. T. fruticans “Azureum” is only 3 feet tall, but 6 feet wide. T. fruticans “Select Form” is 6 feet tall and 9 feet wide if left unpruned but is more compact in growth than the species.

Teucrium fruticans is good for coastal plantings and can tolerate salt spray. Full sun.

Teucrium chamaedrys is one of the most versatile and low-maintenance teucriums. It is about 16  inches tall and 2 feet wide, with dense growth.

The always-handsome leaves are glossy deep green with tiny pinked edges. Flowers are a deep mauve pink. It can be used as a low hedge or edging, in a knot garden or dotted about with other perennials in lieu of a lawn.

If grown as a low, formal edging or hedge, it can be sheared as needed for a formal line. It benefits from cutting back in winter to about 6 inches, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. Full sun is best, but it will grow in a fair amount of shade, too, and tolerates dry, rooty conditions.

Teucrium ackermannii is another great teucrium, but less commonly seen. It is another low-growing plant that is perfect to use with other perennials in lieu of a lawn.

It is considered a small shrublet with spreading growth of about 6 to 8 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The leaves are silvery-white and small, resembling a lavender. In fact, the plant looks like a lavender turned into a ground cover. Flowers are a beautiful complementary mauve. Full sun.

Teucrium cossoni is low-growing, gray foliaged ground cover that is only about 6 inches tall and about 3 feet wide. Its soft, delicate gray foliage is topped with a very fragrant (like grape-flavored candy) mass of mauve-pink flowers in summer.

The effect is wonderful. This ground cover does not root along the stems, so is not a “take-over”-type plant.

It can easily be trimmed as needed. This is a perfect plant for a lawn substitute. It does grow best with some compost and drip irrigation. Full sun.

Teucrium hircanicum, wood sage or Iranian germander is a too-little-grown showy perennial with distinct spikes of mauve/purple flowers from the Caucasus Mountains and West Asia.

The vertical flower spikes somewhat resemble a veronica, but are coarser and aren’t as stiffly upright. The stems, leaves and flower spikes are fragrant and hairy. The whole plant is just under 2 feet tall when in bloom. It flowers in late spring through midsummer or longer.

It can be cut back hard at the point when it begins to look scraggly, and it will send up more flower spikes and fresh foliage to cover the remainder of the summer. The plants are not long-lived but seed a few plants as they decline, ensuring perpetuity. New young plants can be moved if needed in winter.

This plant can be grown in partial shade, but plants can sometimes flop in this situation. Cut it back hard again in the fall/winter. A couple of cultivars are “Paradise Delight” or “Purple Tails.”

Kate Frey’s column appears every other week in Sonoma Home. Contact Kate at: katebfrey@gmail.com, freygardens.com, Twitter @katebfrey, Instagram @americangardenschool

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