September 8, 2009 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Is it agaSTASHee? Aga-stach-ay?

Sunset Hyssop (Agastache rupestris)

is it Aghasta(phlegm)ee, how the heck do we pronounce the darned thing? Even ten years ago most of us would not have known an Agastache from a....from a....lets say...from a Leonotis (another unusually colored mint the Botanic Gardens are popularizing...more on that another time). But as I drive around Denver (or stroll through York Street), the fiery rusty, orangy, russet, flaboyant yet subtle Italianate hues of the flame-like flowers never cease to delight me. And tens of thousands of other Denverites seem to agree. Agastache (however we choose to pronounce the generic name) has been around for a long time: several rather dull purple or yellow flowered species (Agastache foeniculum and nepetoides respectively) have been cultivated in herb gardens for a very long time, and are treasured by beekeepers everywhere for their honey production.

Then a man named Richard Dufresne who pretty much invented the craze for Salvia then got interested in an obscure group of Mexican and Southwestern mints--the now familiar Brittoniastrum section of Agastache: these are pollinated by hummingbirds rather than bees. Many Denverites have told me hummers stick around their gardens all summer now that they grow these fiery hyssops. Rich created hybrids that are still in commerce, and informed many of us about this group decades ago. He encouraged Sally Walker to collect Agastache rupestris in the early 1990's: Denver Botanic Gardens and High Country Gardens both obtained seed about the same time. The spectacular sunset hyssop was so showy the very first years that it was the front page of the very first brochure of Plant Select: the rest is pretty much history. (Sometimes I wonder: was it Plant Select that made Agastache or was it the other way around?)

A Russian Sage alone is just plain blue. Combine it with sunset hyssop and you have something magic. As more and more species and hybrids of these Southwestern mints hit the streets, our autumn gardens will blaze ever more brilliantly, and our tongues will continue to twist and trip trying to figure out how to pronounce the darned name. I have a suggestion that might help, however:  if someone corrects your pronounciation, be sure to tell them that "My dear, that's the way I used to pronounce it!", turn up your nose and walk away briskly.

Agastache hybrid at the Gardens at Kendrick Lake


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