By Steven Hightower, Sonoma County Master Gardener
My first experience with Teucrium was several years ago, noticing when neighbors up Sonoma Mountain planted a long fence-line enclosing a renovated vineyard with a mélange of Rhamnus, coast live oak, manzanita, toyon and Teucrium fruticans—commonly known as bush germander. A couple of years later, I noticed it more actively at a lovely home on the Napa Master Gardener’s biennial tour: the striking gray spiky-haired waist-high bush stood regally over cannonballs of green Santolina, purple grosso lavender, and blue Russian sage, against a dry-laid stone wall down which tumbled dark prostrate rosemary. I thought, “What a handsome shrub, and it sure looks like deer might not bother it much” and went searching for its plant tag. I’ve become more familiar with some of the genus’ members since, and they’re now an integral part of my garden, both under oaks with natives, and in somewhat more defined areas.
A member of the Lamiaceae, or Mint Family (which also includes lavender and salvia), Teucrium is a fairly large genus of evergreen shrubs and subshrubs that includes species ranging from low perennial groundcovers to the above-mentioned bush germander, which I’ve subsequently seen as high as 6-7 feet. Teucrium is native to Mediterranean climates, and as such, fairly drought tolerant. Teucriums are really among the sturdiest of plants, and are great for difficult situations. They thrive in heat and in poor or rocky soils; they can dress up, or down, and go formal or casual. The most common varieties, found throughout, and well-suited to, Sonoma County are T. fruticans, T. chamaedrys (syn. T. x lucidrys) and T. cossonii majoricum. They will generally take full sun to some shade, and like well-drained soil, although I’ve found here on Sonoma Mountain that they will tolerate some clay. They are as deer resistant as almost anything.
T. chamaedrys (aka. T. x lucidrys)— wall germander—is a shorter, mounding form 1
T. cossonii majoricum (aka T. majoricum)—fruity germander—is a low, slowly spreading groundcover, but not at all invasive. Nice rose-lavender 3/4" ball-shaped flowers are heavy in spring with a smattering in summer and a nice re-bloom in fall. Bees & butterflies love it. The foliage has a strong pleasant aroma when pinched. MG Sandy Metzger reports she likes to plant it among rocks, and MG Rosemary McCreary suggests trimming it occasionally to encourage density.
Less readily available species include T. canadense, a low creeping groundcover similar to T. chamaedrys; T. aroanum, which forms low tufts about 4 inches high,
The major Teucrium species described above can usually be found locally at Sonoma Mission Gardens, Emerisa Gardens, Wedekind’s Garden Center, Cottage gardens, Mostly Natives and by mail from Digging Dog.
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