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Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ – why the unsuitable name?

Nepeta (catmint) 'Walker's Low' - not really low at all. Image ©Walters GardensWorking on an article about catmints, Nepeta, recently it suddenly struck me: Why does Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ (left, click to enlarge) have such an unsuitable name? You’d never describe it as “low” growing.

Checking what I said in my own book – my big fat Encyclopedia of Perennials – I see that I gave the height as 24in/60cm. When the Chicago Botanic Garden reported on their trial of nepetas back in 2007, they gave it 30in/75cm. America’s Perennial Plant Association, when it gave ‘Walker’s Low’ its Perennial Plant Of The Year award in 2007 gave its height as 24-36in/60-90cm.

Of course it tends to flop, rather elegantly in fact, and if trussed up to keep the stems vertical would be even taller – though perhaps less appealing. But how did a plant that can reach 3ft/90cm in height come to be called “low”?

I’ve been rooting around trying to find out for the last few weeks – and have not come up with a definite answer. Can anyone help?

It’s often said to have been raised in Ireland or named for an Irish garden, but the leads turn out to be dead ends. The garden writer Jane Taylor (author of The Shady Garden, Fragrant Gardens and of the very useful Drought Tolerant Plants) has been cited as having discovered the plant – but I’ve been unable to contact her. [If anyone has contact details, please email me privately.]

Just to emphasize the fact that ‘Walker’s Low’ is not a short plant – we now have a dwarf version, reaching just 15in/38cm. It’s called Junior Walker (‘Novanepjun’) and was created by “gamma-ray mutagenesis” – tissue-cultured plants of ‘Walker’s Low’ were treated with gamma radiation, then grown on, planted out and assessed. One neat, bushy and prolific plant was chosen, give the code name ‘Novanepjun’ and the selling name of Junior Walker – acknowledging the saxophonist of that name, leader of the Tamla Motown band Junior Walker and the All Stars. It’s just starting to appear in the US, not yet in the UK.

So – does anyone have any ideas - or better still facts! - about how ‘Walker’s Low’ got its name?

* My article on nepats appeares in the May issue of the Royal Horticultural Society's magazine, The Garden.

Comments

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This is very interesting thing that you have brought up in this post. This is actually very unsuitable name for nepeta walkers. I enjoyed reading this post!

Sean Valjean

I recently took the same question to nursery plainfield il and they also told me that it is not a short plant which was something that I had not previously grasped fully.

Graham Rice

I'm still making enquiries... I'll post again if I get to the truth...

Theo

The catalogue from the well known Dutch nursery De Hessenhof says that "Walker's Low" is named after the garden where the plant was first discovered. Don't know where that garden is and Google isn't any helpful either as it gives thousands of references to Nepeta "Walker's Low".

Did you include Nepeta kubica in your article about Nepeta's? I think this is one of the better Nepeta's that is currently around. It grows to appr. 0.90-1.10 meter high, does not flop, is fully hardy here with me (-20C was no problem) and flowers from mid/late May to early August. First class plant.

Theo

Nepeta kubica should of course be Nepeta kubanica (on Ascension Day my brain works slow!)

Graham Rice

Unfortunately Nepeta kubanica was squeezed out of my article for lack of space; you're not the only person to mention that species.

Also... I have some new info on 'Walker's Low', which I'll bring you as soon as I have more details.

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