I became obsessed with Corsican mint a few years ago, after seeing a photograph of a courtyard garden, which-if memory serves-featured little more than ten or twelve large white stepping stones magically hovering above a translucent carpet of the Mentha requienii. While I had no desire to impose this kind of ‘modern’ aesthetic onto my own garden-which was already packed full of similar obsessions-I began to research. The plant, I quickly learned, has a preference for a ‘climate zone’ of 6 through 9-fairly warm– and though Washington Heights is technically a zone 6A, I find that plants do best if I treat the neighborhood as a zone 5. What did I care? I immediately bought some. Via the internet!
Predictably, when the plants arrived from Oregon-mecca of nurseries-I was disappointed that the reality did not meet my exalted expectations. It was difficult to reconcile the infinite lime-green terrain of my dreams with the small soggy clumps wrapped in plastic and rubber bands, many with limp, yellowing leaves quite obviously homesick for the motherland from which they had been so cruelly ripped. More promising was the smell; I’m generally not a fan of minty-tasting things, but this was sweeter and not-at-all artificial. It made me want to brush my teeth!
I put it here and there around the garden, and was pleasantly surprised when some of it began to crawl around and over the nearby rocks. Although it suffered a bit in the August heat and died off completely in the snow, it triumphantly reemerged in the spring, and has since maintained a stronghold in the pictured crevice. This year it even has microscopic purple flowers, each one about the size of a pin. They glitter like tiny little stars. (Though I can’t help but agree with ‘TheDamnMushroom’ on Flickr, who wrote: “That’s the main thing I hate about my camera-it can’t macro for shit. [But the] little purple blooms are there.”)
One of the great things about Corsican mint is that it can effectively replicate the highly coveted (at least by me!) ‘rock-garden’ aesthetic without the heartbreak and melancholy invariably associated with the more temperamental (if admittedly gorgeous) succulents, conifers and mosses, none of which-to give an obvious example-were too pleased by last month’s El-Nino induced monsoons (if turning to brown mush is an indication).
Although I haven’t tried this myself, I’m sure you could grow Corsican mint quite nicely in a pot; perhaps throw in a rock or two and watch the tendrils slowly ‘cascade’ over the edges as the season progresses. Like me, you could come home after another sad day in the city and console yourself as you gently caress the leaves of this aromatic marvel and dream of soft Mediterranean breezes belonging to a time and place so much better than our own.
Matthew Gallaway is a writer who lives in Washington Heights. His first novel, The Metropolis Case, will be published in 2010 by Crown.