For years I've grown Lambs' Ears, also called Woolly Betony (Stachys lanata or S. byzantina. Its low, fuzzy silver leaves contrast nicely with other colors, and grow closely enough to crowd out weeds.
The flowers are small, and the spikes quite odd-looking, so that many people cut them down. I'm a softy, I try to stretch my aesthetic limits and appreciate them. One variety, 'Silver Carpet', has been bred to be flowerless; unfortunately it is also more prone to fungal rot. With this disease, late winter moisture or hot damp weather will turn those beautiful leaves to brown mush. One wet summer, I threw out three clumps, each two feet wide, of that mess.
Another variety that flowers seldom and resists rot is called Big Ears or Giant Lambs' Ears, (S. lanata 'Countess Helene von Stein Zeppelin' ); its leaves are more than twice as big, but the plant still only grows a foot tall.
However to give any Lambs' Ears their best protection against rot, grow in full sun, with excellent drainage and air circulation; and provide no supplemental water after the plant is established. Another good strategy is to get a start from someone who lives near you and has healthy plants; fungi are different from one locale to another.
If you still get rot, you could try removing all dead leaves and then propping up the plants so they don't lie on the ground; get air circulation under them. Check them after a heavy rain that might beat them down. With this winter's heavy snow, I might need to do this come thaw
Browsing the seed catalogs, I just got interested in a related plant: Stachys macrantha, Big Betony. This one has green, highly-textured leaves: wrinkled, prominently veined, hairy and scallop-edged; heart-shaped in the basal rosettes (which grow into a thick mat) and oval or lance-shaped higher up.
Thick clusters of 1.25-inch flowers cover two-foot spikes, long-blooming and showy. This looks like an addition to the few dependable flowers for July and August and, since they're pinkish-purple, a useful contrast to the more common yellows and oranges of that season.
It likes sun or part shade, is not picky about soil, and does well in drought. An old-time favorite, not common today, it's easy to grow, hardy, and increases fast.
What a feeling it is to discover a new plant that sounds perfect for my garden!
© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark