Eye-catching Australian Mint Bush

Jan loved the Prostanthera. That’s Prostanthera ovalifolia variegata, also known as Variegated Australian Mint Bush, a versatile shrub that’s been blooming its head off for more than a month now. Jan is Jan Nelson, also known as The Mountain Gardener, a versatile designer and garden writer who has been penning her column for the Valley Press Banner for years now.

Prostanthera in bloom

Blossoms and variegated foliage make an eye-catching combination

I recently gave Jan a tour of a local garden I designed that was featured in the book Landscape Ideas You Can Use. Jan wrote about her impressions in her column The Mountain Gardener; A Well-Balanced Garden. The garden is skillfully maintained by it’s owners, a busy family of passionate cooks and gardeners. The garden installation and construction was done by David Baxter and his crew and it won an award from the California Landscape Contractors Association in 2012.

prostanthera with table

Lightly pruned Mint Bush can be an effective garden screen

Prostanthera pruned

Mint Bush can be pruned hard to reduce its size or create structure

As I was saying, the Mint Bush was doing its thing in the Curtis Garden, as well as in my own, when Jan stopped by. The height of its bloom season is spring when it produces masses of thumb-nail sized lavender blossoms that can cover the plant. The flowers look  like larger, more lilac-colored versions of rosemary flowers. The foliage, a lovely variegated cream and green, provides year round interest especially when contrasted with darker colors.

prostanthera with Euphorbia

Mint Bush looks great combined with darker foliage

The shrub gets it’s common name of Mint Bush from the strongly scented foliage. The fragrance, to my nose, is a strong mint with a heavy pine-y influence. It’s so strong and distinct that whenever I plan to include this plant in a garden design, I like to provide a foliage sample, during the concept meeting, so that my clients can bruise the leaves and decide if they like the heady scent.

Prostanthera blossoms

Lavender blossoms and cream-edged foliage of the variegated Mint Bush

Prostanthera does best in sun but can take surprising amounts of shade, although it flowers less when there is less light. It is hardy to 20 degrees, deer resistant and tolerant of low water once established.  Un-pruned it can be an open and delicate looking shrub to 5 or 6 ft tall, with light to medium pruning it stays shorter and fills in substantially. Mint Bush prefers good drainage and is a tough but versatile plant that is a welcome addition to many landscapes.

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Categories: Landscape Design


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8 Comments on “Eye-catching Australian Mint Bush”

  1. Burnell Vassar
    April 3, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    After one year my mint bush looks great. I thought the flowers would be insignificant, but no, they are striking even at a distance. Central foothills, Zone 9.

  2. April 3, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying your Prostanthera. Yes, the individual flowers really are lovely, and a happy plant can really put them out in great quantity, making quite a show. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Julie McLaren
    December 9, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    I’ve read on another webpage that mint bushes can be “notoriously short-lived”. I planted one last February and love it, so I would be devastated to lose it. What is your experience with it’s longevity? Would it live longer if pruned hard as in your photos? Mine is already showing signs of going bare on the lower 6″ near soil level even though it is only 2 feet tall. How do you approach pruning? Can I prune below the last bit of foliage or do I have to be more careful?

  4. December 9, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    Julie, In my experience, the key to mint bush life-span is good drainage. They can be short-lived when they are watered heavily in clay soil. As for pruning, yes you should be careful about hard pruning past the last leaves. They respond best to moderate pruning once or twice a year and remember that pruning too close to flowering time will result in a loss of bloom. I hope that helps. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

  5. Dave
    December 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Hi Joy. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I’m in santa monica and am considering this lovely plant after seeing it at a local nursery, FK. It could be in other places, but I was fantasizing about it being a hedge. Do you think it could be dense enough to provide screening? We have a 3′ retaining wall in front between the house and a sidewalk. The plants would be on top of the retaining wall. Would keep them to 4′ max height, but since it is a raised bed, we don’t want anything that might get too leggy in a couple year.

    Thank you again. Very nice and helpful website.

    • Dave
      December 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

      ps – Wystringia (the loose one with the purple flower) is the other option.

    • December 19, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

      Hello Dave, Yes, I think Prostanthera could be a good choice for a hedge. If your wall has good drainage behind it, as any well-built wall should have, then that is especially good for the life of the Prostanthera. I am personally using Prostanthera (and Westringia btw) in this way and have found it to screen well-enough to hide a hot-tub. Especially if you give a good pruning each year, after the flowering period is over to keep it from being too leggy. In fact, the photo with the black and orange chairs is the last plant in the screen hedge, which is purposely left more lightly pruned to promote more flowers next to a path. They will get a bit more sparse at the very bottom, eventually, compared to a traditional choice like boxwood, but I think the benefits of this plant make up for that. – good luck!

      • Dave
        January 7, 2015 at 11:21 am #

        Hi Joy – thank you so much for all the scoop. Wow – I didn’t realize those were actual shots from your gardens. They are beautiful. I love the Prostanthera with the orange and black chairs. I seem to recall the Wystringia also got a little leggy, but my partner is leaning that way. If not as the hedge, I’m definitely going to find a place for the australian mint bush. I love the look and the fragrance is incredible.

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