Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Lion's Ears

leonotis-nepitifolia-whorl-640

 

Square stems holding sky-high satellites of orange flowers?  Lion's ears is channeling "The Jetsons."  Unless you grew up on the Serengeti, it's a much stronger likeness than lion's ears.  I'll have to accept on faith that each of the fuzzy orange trumpets is, in fact, a tribute in color and furriness to those of big cats.  The ears of Mabel, our six-pound marmalade tabby, show only a vaguest resemblence to the flowers of Leonotis nepitifolia.

 

So in honor of the Jetson's apartment in a tower in Orbit City, I vote for the name change, Lion's Ears to Skypad.

 

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Here's a group of three plants of Lion's Ears: A half-dozen stems holding aloft a dozen and more little orange and green satellites. 

 

leonotis-nepitifolia-overall-640

 

Orbit City, indeed.

 

 

Here's how to grow this gigantic minty annual:

Latin Name

Leonotis nepitifolia

Common Name

Lion's Ears

Family

Lamiaceae, the Mint family.

What kind of plant is it?

Annual, self-seeding in Zone 8 and warmer.

Hardiness

Zones 8 - 11.

Habit

Multi-stemmed, both wide as well as upright.  The many side branches start growing outward but strive to become vertical, too.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in four months

Eight to ten feet tall, four to eight feet wide, depending if all the side branches are able to grow vertically or, instead, take the easy route and grow outward instead of upward.

Texture

The first four feet of the plant is dense and (honestly) a bit boring.  But the "chorus" of ascending flower spikes is unique and exciting in its spare vertical geometry accented with Jetson-like satellites of orange flowers.

Grown for

its size: Happy Lion's Ears plants can be eight to ten feet tall by the end of August, and four or five feet wide.  Plus, the occasional low-elevation side branch will zoom outward six feet or more through the neighboring plants before "surfacing" with its tell-tale orange flowers (see "Grown for" below). This is a big plant.

 

its flowers: Fuzzy and curved trumpets, the narrow orange flowers do look a bit like lion's ears—if, that is, lions have dozens of them in a tight circular whorl with bristly green bits sticking out between.  Fortunately, the flowers' appeal doesn't depend a whit on any feline resemblance.  For one, hummingbirds adore them.  You will, too: The green stem in the middle of one whorl shoots up through it a foot or so to grow another whorl, and then, a foot of that, another, and another, and another—four or five whorls in all.  It's a unique vertical floral kebab.  With the plant's overall size, moreover, the kebabs are displayed dramatically high above most surrounding growth.  In every sense, Lion's Ears are automatically one of your garden's high points.

 

its minty fragrance: As befitting a member of the mint family (let alone a plant with foliage that is (sort or) like that of Nepeta, the catmints), Lion's Ears' foliage has a strong mint fragrance when brushed or crushed.  You should expect that deer, rabbits, and groundhogs will leave it alone.  Cats of all sizes, though, may well be interested.

Flowering season

July into September.

Culture

Full sun, good soil, all possible heat.

How to handle it

There's nothing shy or cautious about Lion's Ears: This is a very big plant, both tall and wide, and very fast growing, too.  Speaking from experience, you need to allow enough room lest it overwhelm its neighbors.  A happy Lion's Ears can easily be five feet across—starting right from the ground, too—and nine feet tall, with a dozen or more stems all racing skyward.

 

This is the rare annual that can be planted singly instead of in groups.   Indeed, unless you garden is really big, you may well only have room for a single plant. If you do plant in groups, space your plants a yard apart; they'll still look cozy by August.

 

Although Lion's Ear will tolerate drought and lean soil, they make a much bigger and better show when grown just like dahlias: In rich, loose soil that gets an occasional deep watering.  Like dahlias, you'll need to do a bit of staking. The plants branch out right from the base but the first stem always maintains primacy.  Using a thick stake—inch-square dahlia stakes, in fact, are great—tie that main stem up to, oh, four feet; it will be casually self-supporting above that.  (Next season I'll put the main stake in right when I plant—again, just like you'd do with a dahlia.  The plant is as tall as the stake in a month, anyway.)  I let almost all the side branches fend for themselves.

 

Lion's Ears are easy to grow from seed but, ironically, for a plant that is practically on pogo sticks when happy, the young plants can be frustratingly slow to establish, let alone come into bloom, if they don't get lots of heat and sun right from the start.  So it's worth it if you can buy gallon-sized youngsters at a nursery; in my experience, they rocket into action.

Downsides

The plant's enormous size and quick growth can be a challenge to control after-the-fact, and growth is so quick that getting behind the curve can be a matter of only a couple of weeks.  This is one plant where even I —6' 3" bare-foot and with wet hair—would welcome a compact cultivar.

Variants

White, red, and purple-flowered plants exist, but I'm not aware that they're commercially available. There's a white form of the other Lion's Ears, L. leonurus, which has flowers that are usually the same orange as L. nepitifolia. L. leonurus is a perennial sub-shrub instead of an annual, so is a more permanent member of the garden where hardy, Zones 9 - 11.  It's also great as an annual, especially because it's not quite as tall as L. nepitifolia. Drat, but all the hardy Leonotis species are, at best, useful in herbal and folk medicine; they're not ornamental enough for any purely-visual use.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By seed; in Zone 8 and above, the plant self-seeds, but not excessively.

Native habitat

Leonotis neptifiolia is native to tropical Africa and southern India.

 
 
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