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The Dry Garden: Coyote mint, a late bloomer


Paradise is at once so attainable and so far away.

This column was going to be about how the most immediate and affordable thing that Southern California homeowners could do to reduce our collective dependency on fossil fuel would be to rip out lawn. But events in the Gulf of Mexico are too crazy-making to be sure that it wouldn’t be the garden-writing equivalent of picking a fight at the dinner table. So this column is about coyote mint.

It is sheer serendipity that coyote mint is one of the most seductive late-June bloomers to win converts to sustainable gardening.

As taxonomists have it, Monardella villosa has a native range that descends from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara. But as the 1-foot-tall-by-3-foot-wide tufts of coyote mint that soldier it out in my midcity Los Angeles garden can attest, these plants do just fine farther south. You must excuse them if, by August, with little more than weekly watering, they shed their leaves.

Oh, those leaves! We all think that we know mint, with flavors so sharp and intriguingly base that we pay for the same flavor in toothpaste as in ice cream. That is, of course, a prelude to “but” -- and it’s a big one.

Coyote-mint-2 As coyote mint proves, not every mint begs devouring, not every brushed leaf signals delectability. Coyote mint excites the nose but warns the palate. Its high, blameless notes defy rumination. Even deer leave it standing long enough to carry the perfume on their hooves rather than their muzzles.

The point of this aromatic diversion? If you put coyote mint in your garden, plant it where anyone who approaches your home brushes up against it. Its architecture allows artful staging of this encounter. Though coyote mint is a perennial, it is not of the towering variety. In a dry garden, it may surpass a foot, after which you can expect its stems to lean or flop over.

The flowers, which are lavender, start coming in June and persist through mid-July, occasionally later, by which time native red buckwheat will have relieved them of almost incessant butterfly traffic.

Returning briefly to the subject of lawn, it bears noting that the Los Angeles City Council may vote soon on a revision of its lawn watering ordinance. If, as is all but inevitable, this vote confirms recommendations of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power commissioners, the new law will adjust the present restrictions on lawn watering. To allay stress on old water mains, odd-numbered addresses would be allowed to water on Mondays and Thursdays, even-numbered addresses on Tuesdays and Fridays.

No matter on which side of the street you may reside, there is a better way. To find it, follow your nose.

-- Emily Green

Green's column on low-water gardening appears every Friday.

Photo credit: Emily Green

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If sports teams can use artificial turf, people can quit watering their lawns and go "native".

Where does one find the coyote mint and when does it get planted?

Hi Saran. Any good nursery specializing in California natives will have it. Some recommendations:

Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley (ring them to ask plants to be put on trucks to the Hollywood farmers market if that's easier)

Rancho Santa Botanic Garden in Claremont (this sells plants at Veterans Gardens in West LA ... again ring them to ask one to be imported for you)

Tree of Life in San Juan Capistrano

Armstrongs should be able to order it for you from Native Sons...

Quick googles will get you their contact details. As with most natives, i
t's best planted in the autumn, just before the fall rains, but buy it now, put it in a pot with plenty of perlite (maybe 30%), water it sparingly in shade, maybe every other day in sun, then plant it in the autumn. After it's established (this takes about a year, water it only in the summer, once a week tops, or less if you don't mind it shedding its leaves. Letting it do this is cool for the borderline miracle of the way it rebounds in the autumn.


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