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Providing a bright splash of colour late in the summer, this sturdy little perennial is a cheerful and easy-going addition to a border or wildflower meadow.
This is a lovely and well-behaved perennial which minds its own business and doesn’t make a nuisance of itself by spreading around uncontrollably. Plants produce a neat tuft of attractive leaves, each of which is edged with blunt teeth. From June until the first frosts, sturdy stems carry compact spikes of vibrant, rosy-purple flowers which are almost orchid-like in their appearance. These are a magnate for bees and other pollinators and are a valuable source of nectar and pollen late in the season. Plants are long-lived and flower reliably each year, spreading slowly to form large clumps. Other forms are available, including ‘alba’ (white), ‘rosea’ (pink) and ‘hummelo’ (bright purple flowers in large spikes). Note that the latin name for Betony has changed recently – it’s better known as Stachys officinalis and is likely to be sold under this name.
In the wild, Betony is a plant of meadows, grassy heaths, hedge banks and open woodlands. It has a preference for damp, acidic soils, but will grow on neutral and mildly basic soil too. It’s found throughout England and Wales, but is less frequent in parts of eastern England and is peculiarly rare in Scotland and Ireland. Sadly, it’s a flower that has suffered from the catastrophic loss of meadows and the decline in woodland coppicing.
Plants are readily available from nurseries and garden centres and are perfect for the front of the border or a sunny wildflower meadow, as long as your soil isn’t too lime-rich. They don’t like too much shading from neighbouring plants. Large clumps can be lifted and split in autumn or spring or you can collect and sow seed in late summer or autumn - they need a chilly winter to trigger germination.
Betony in a wildflower meadow © Trevor Dines/Plantlife