It’s tucked neatly beneath the snow now, so it’s a little hard to see, but the carpet of Lamium that is creeping through my side and back yard is filling in nicely. I had cobbled together bits and pieces, blending a few species and cultivars together as I happened upon them either in garden centers or in a friend’s or relative’s garden.
Many of the plants had come from my parents’ property, and when we closed the house for the last time, I was loath to leave behind the trove of plant selections there. In a surprising move, the buyer specified that all plants on the property remain in place, so before the contract was signed, my sister and I surgically removed a few favorites and filled the holes with newer picks. I couldn’t take my favorite ‘Wolf Eyes’ dogwood, but I was able to dig out a few square inches of Lamium to add to my patchwork quilt of groundcovers. There were small plots of L. maculatum ‘White Nancy’ as well as lush plantings of L. galeobdolon, yellow archangel.
Name: Lamium species
Common name: Spotted deadnettle; yellow archangel
Hardiness: Zones 3(4) to 8(9)
Mature height: From 6 inches to 2 feet
Mature spread: Up to 2 or 3 feet
Classification: Herbaceous perennial groundcover
Landscape use: Excellent, mat-forming groundcover for partly sunny to fully shaded areas of the garden; may have a tendency to spread aggressively in some areas, but is well behaved within contained, hardscape borders such as sidewalks, patios or retaining walls
Ornamental characteristics: Very showy to smaller, somewhat inconspicuous flowers emerge in late spring to early summer and, depending on the cultivar, range in color from purple and pink to bright yellow to white; variegated foliage provides flashes of light in the shade garden
These have been added to the poor soil in my small yard, and they have made the transition well from rich, black soil to less-than-optimal grounds. Adaptability is one hallmark of many groundcovers, and Lamium is no exception. It prefers well-drained soils that remain relatively cool, and does not like wet conditions. And while it doesn’t much care for very hot, very muggy climates (which aptly describes some Midwestern summers), Lamium has survived nicely here in Chicagoland. One very wretched stretch of gasp-inducing humidity caused a small area to melt out, but once it was cut back, it filled in again and no one would have been the wiser.
Clusters of small, hooded flowers top short stems and tend to last for several weeks, if not months. Those of ‘White Nancy’ are a brilliant, snow white that truly brightens shady areas, while the somewhat larger spikes of distinctly yellow flowers highlight L. galeobdolon, especially the cultivar ‘Herman’s Pride’. I have a few unnamed surprises here and there that have popped up through the yellow and white, these sporting delicate pink and light purple flowers tucked slightly lower than the others. I had intended to create a yellow-and white spread to lighten up the space, but these little gems are lovely accents; besides, no one would ever describe my hodgepodge garden as “intentional.”
The foliage, however, is the real draw. Leaf shape and size varies greatly among cultivars, ranging from small and heart-shaped to serrated spears. A few emerge and remain a dull, gray-green, but many provide a riot of variegation from white spots to stripes to an overall dusting of silver. The brilliance of the white and silver adds a welcome highlight to shaded areas, where the plants seem to perform their very best.
Not bothered much by insects or diseases, Lamium also is reported to be deer tolerant, and my rabbit population isn’t terribly interested.
The Plant Evaluation program at the Chicago Botanic Garden has produced an outstanding report comparing species suitable for the Midwest and if you’re concerned about aggressiveness or the potential for the plant to become downright invasive, check with local growers, botanic gardens and Extension personnel. I’ve been fortunate not to experience this, but there are areas around the country where invasiveness has been reported.
Read more: Good Citizen Groundcovers