1 Mar

Lavender (Lavandula), 2-4 ft., evergreen, spikes of purple to blue fragrant flowers spring/summer, easy, loves sun, deer resistant and drought tolerant.

Native to Mediterranean region, Canary Islands, and Madeira. Prized for fragrant lavender or purple flowers, often set off by colorful bracts.

Blossom spikes of some species are used for perfume, aromatic oil, soap, medicine, sachets. Aromatic gray, gray-green, or yellowish green foliage. Use as informal hedge or edging, in herb gardens, or in borders with plants needing similar cultural conditions—sunrose (Helianthemum), catmint (Nepeta), rosemary, santolina, verbena.

Where winters are too cold for year-round growth outdoors, lavenders are good container plants for sunny windows. When they are grown outside in marginal climates, self-sown seedlings often show up the summer after parent plants die from winter cold. Most lavenders attract bees and butterflies.

Lavenders need well-drained soil and little or no fertilizer. They will succeed in cool coastal or mountain climates or inland valleys and deserts but succumb to root rot in areas where heat is accompanied by humidity.

Fernleaf sorts (L. canariensisL. minutoliiL. multifida) as well as L. allardiiL.—Goodwin Creek Grey—, and L. heterophylla are tender, but they are more resistant to heat and humidity than English lavenders and lavandins (L. angustifoliaL. intermedia).

Give good air circulation. If mulching around lavenders, use pea gravel, decomposed granite, or sand rather than organic materials. To keep plants neat and compact, shear back by one-third to one-half (even by two-thirds) every year immediately after bloom.

If plants become woody and open in center, remove a few of the oldest branches; take out more when new growth comes. If this doesn’t work, dig and replace.

For sachets and potpourri, cut flower spikes or strip flowers from stems just as blossoms show color; dry in a cool, shady place. Dried spikes make fragrant wreaths, swags,wands. Dried flowers can be used to scent water or soap. To flavor ice cream, pastries, salads, you can use fresh flowers of L. angustifoliaand L. intermedia varieties; other species contain harmful chemicals that should not be ingested.

Since lavenders have been in cultivation for centuries and some species cross easily, many varieties and hybrids have arisen. Names are often confused, so some of the variety names that follow may not agree with those you see on nursery labels.

Be aware that only cutting-grown stock is truly uniform. Several varieties originally propagated by cuttings are now grown from seed (for example, plants labeled Hidcote Strain and Munstead Strain); seedlings vary in color and growth habit.

Lavandula angustifolia

Lavandula angustifolia
This is the sweetly fragrant lavender used for perfume and sachets. Common name notwithstanding, it is native not to England but to mountains of southern Europe. It’s the hardiest, most widely planted species. In Zones 2 and 3, it is shorter lived, lasting only 3 to 5 years. Most varieties are fairly low growing, forming mounds of foliage from 8 in. to 2 ft. high and wide. Narrow, smooth-edged, gray-green or silvery gray leaves to 2 in. long. Unbranched flower stems rise 4–12 in. above foliage, and are topped with 1–4-in.-long spikes of flowers in white, pink, lavender blue, or various shades of purple. Blooms mainly appear from early to midsummer, but some varieties repeat in late summer or fall.

Lavandula dentata

Lavandula dentata
Grows 3 to 4 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide. Narrow green or gray-green leaves are 1 1/2 in. long, 1/2 in. wide, with square-toothed edges. Purple flowers in short, rounded spikes, each topped with a pair of flag-like bracts that look like rabbit ears. Long spring-into-summer flowering period; almost year round in mild-winter areas.

Lavandula latifolia
Compact growth to 3 ft. tall and 1 1/2–2 ft. wide, with gray-green leaves 3 in. long, 1/4 in. wide; resemblesL. angustifolia. Slender, widely branching flower stems support interrupted spikes 1 1/2–4 in. long; blossoms range from soft mauve to bright violet blue, with woolly gray calyxes tipped in violet. Blooms in late summer.

Lavandula minutolii
Native to Canary Islands. To 2 ft. tall and 3 ft.wide, with deeply divided green foliage similar to that of L. canariensis. Tiny, bright blue flowers are held on stems up to 3 ft. tall from summer through fall. Very tolerant of heat and humidity. Responds well to pruning.

Lavandula multifida
Sprawling growth to 1 1/2 ft. tall and 2–3 ft. across. Gray-green to silvery foliage is finely divided into branched segments that are heavily felted with fine hairs. Wiry, branching flower stems rise 10–14 in. above the leaves, with deep blue-violet flowers arranged spirally around a 3–4-in. spike. Blooms spring to fall (all year in mild-winter areas). Remove faded bloom stalks and oldest stems to keep it neat. Has a strong, earthy, medicinal scent. Plants offered as L. pinnataare likely to be L. multifida.

Lavandula stoechas

Lavandula stoechas
Includes several subspecies, all stocky plants 1 1/2–3 ft. tall and wide, with narrow gray or gray-green, 1/2–1-in.-long leaves. Small flowers are typically blackish maroon, borne on short, fat, 2-in. spikes topped by two to four flaglike bracts resembling rabbit ears; the bracts come in shades of pink and purple. Blossoms open first in four vertical rows around the spike; then rest of spike fills in with flowers. Blooms spring into summer; often repeats if sheared.

Lavandula stoechas pedunculata
Taller than other forms, with longer flower stems. Green or gray-green foliage.

Lavandula x heterophylla
The original is probably a cross between L. dentata and L. angustifolia, occurring wild in southern France. Most plants labeled as this lavender are actually L. x allardii. Both L. x heterophylla and L. x allardii hybrids have dull gray-green leaves, but the true L. heterophylla has upper leaves that are mostly smooth edged, while those near the plant’s base are usually toothed in the middle and near the tip. L. x heterophylla is also a shorter plant (grows to about 1 1/2–2 ft. tall) with shorter, unbranched spikes of bright violet flowers—and the spikes are less interrupted, having one whorl of blossoms below the main flower spike.

Lavandula x intermedia
This group of sterile hybrids between parents L. angustifolia and L. latifolia is distinguished from the English lavenders by larger growth and by branching stems topped with interrupted flower spikes; blooms from mid to late summer. Long used in the perfume and soap industries, lavandins are vigorous, fragrant plants. Almost as hardy as English lavender parent and more tolerant of warm, humid summers.

‘French Gray’
This variety has grayer, somewhat larger leaves than the species, with dense grayish white down on young foliage.

‘Goodwin Creek Gray’
Most likely a hybrid between L. lanata and L. dentata. This densely foliaged plant grows to 2 1/2–3 ft. high and 3–4 ft. wide, with silvery leaves that are toothed at tips. Deep violet-blue flowers appear from spring to late fall, or virtually year-round in mild-winter climates. Similar to L. x allardii in scent and tolerance for heat and humidity.


2 Responses to “Lavender”

  1. Jeannette April 14, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    I believe the photo is an example of Lavandula dentata which name I could not think of until I read your informative article. Thank you.

    • Jeannette April 14, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

      Oh dear, perhaps I am more lavender confused than ever…is the picture L. multifida? It is not my favorite of the lavenders, because of its fragrance but when it is in full bloom it is very pretty.

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