Germander was once known as “poor man’s box” because the plant could be substituted for the more expensive boxwood in gardens. Its glossy, dark green foliage can be clipped to form a miniature hedge, such as those that edge Elizabethan knot gardens.
Common Names: Germander, Wall Germander
Description: Slender herbaceous perennial, up to 18 inches tall; opposite, oval, bright green leaves with serrated edges; rose to purple blooms on small stalks in groups of two or three or in whorls of six or more
Hardiness: To Zone 5
Flowering: Midsummer to late summer
Parts Used: Ornamental
Range/Habitat: Native to Europe, naturalized in North America and Europe
In earlier times, germander was also used to treat gout, and Dioscorides (ca. 40–90 CE) recommended it for the treatment of coughs and asthma. Herbalists also once recommended this plant for gallbladder conditions, fever, stomachache, and diarrhea. Some people have used it as a mouthwash to help kill germs and freshen breath. In the early 1990s wall germander, alone and mixed with other plants, was sold as a weight-loss product in Europe and caused several dozen cases of toxicity, including one fatality.
Caution: Germander is no longer recommended for medicinal use due to significant safety concerns including possible liver toxicity and even death. The United States still allows small quantities of the herb to be used as a flavoring in alcoholic beverages.
Compact in form and drought tolerant, germander is an ideal edging for pathways and borders. Try it also in the crevices of a rock wall, allowing the stems to cascade downward, as the plant’s common name suggests. Several cultivated forms have been developed, including a compact variety that grows to only 5 inches tall. With glossy, dark green leaves and long-lasting, lavender flowers, it makes an excellent groundcover, low edging, or rock garden plant. However, if growing it in your garden, remember that it is a toxic species.
How to grow it
Germander thrives in full sun and a well-drained, slightly acidic soil; its ideal growing medium consists of peat, sand, and organic matter. Seeds can take up to 1 month to germinate. For a faster start, buy young plants or use cuttings. Space established plants 1 foot apart. To create a formal edging, clip the plants in spring to encourage branching.