Lavender, L. angustifolia, comes from a family of 21 aromatic, evergreen , perennial shrubs. It is native to the Mediterranean area, though England and France many large lavender farms. Young plants will have many soft wood branches which become woody as the plant matures. The colour range spans green, to green-grey, to grey-green. The grey colouring is an indication that lavender is very drought tolerant. Flowers will be anywhere from a very soft lilac to a rich dark blue to pink. They stay on the plant for a good month or more, starting in late June, early July. The plants range in size from 6” to 3’ (if well protected) but in our area, most grown to about 2’. The zone is 5 to 10. This is because, French, and Spanish Lavender will grow very well here but will need to be lifted and kept indoors for the winter, or treated as annuals.
Lavender has a long and revered history. It represents love and chastity, therefore it is frequently used in wedding bouquets. It is also used to protect linens and other pieces of clothing from moths. This is accomplished by drying the lavender and hanging it in closets, or wrapping it in muslin and setting it in drawers. A cross between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia called L.x intermedia or Lavandin is used for all types of perfumery, as it has more floral essence. Added to baths, lavender helps to cleanse and stimulate the skin. Wrap flowers in cheesecloth and hang from the tape as the tub is filling, then soak up the invigorating fragrance as well as it’s healing properties.
As lavender does not come true to its parent, growing it from seed can be disappointing, so taking cuttings from a mother plant is the surest way to have plants of the same type. This can be accomplished by taking 2-3” cuttings, preferably side shoots, from the mother plant in early summer. Set in pots of sandy soil, and place the pots in a shady part of the garden, watering as needed until roots form. Once roots have formed, either pop them out of the pot and plant in a protected area for the winter, mulching well, or bring pots in and keep in a cool well lit area watering sparingly. Lavender requires a good, well drained soil where no water can pool either after rains or in the spring when the snow melts. A sloping garden where other plants struggle, will please a lavender very well. Neutral to alkaline soils in full sun are also important. In the spring, or fall when setting out the cuttings, be sure to leave 2 to 3’ between them, and clip them back when they start to flower, as a strong plant is what you want the first year, and the flowers will reduce its size and strength. Some growers say to move lavenders every five years to ensure healthy growth, but others say to leave them alone. We have been growing our lavenders in the same place for over ten years and they are just fine.
Occasionally, lavender can be bothered by fungus disease, caterpillars, or aphids, but on the whole, they require very little in the way of maintenance. Remove the spent flowers to encourage good growth. Placing evergreen bows around the plants will help with wind protection as well as encourage snow build up and insulate the ground.
If you wish to keep the tender lavenders (L.stoechas – French and Spanish; L. dentate – French and fringed) in pots throughout the winter – give them a coarse, porous soil, a sunny window, and water sparingly, making sure night temperatures are between 5 and 10ºC , and daytime temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees higher. Set them back out in spring after hardening off and all chance of frost has passed.
In the garden, try lavenders as an edging for walkways, around rose beds and in rock gardens. They make the best impact when grown where their flower spikes can be easily seen. Remember also to try and plant them where their fragrance will be picked up on the wind. Near a window or deck/patio is a lovely setting.
Try them in pots on steps where they will be touched when you walk by, releasing their fragrance.
Lavender in flower makes a great gift. Cut a number of branches, and tie them up with raffia or coloured ribbon. They can be put in an empty vase out of direct light, and will keep their shape and smell for years. Setting a sprig or two on a wrapped gift makes it something very special!
Plants to try:
L. dentate – (fringed lavender) can grow to 3 ft. but is only hardy to zone 8, so treat as stated above. It has ‘toothed’, grey-green leaves with dark purple flowers in dense spikes. L. dentate var candicans is the same except it has gray-white foliage.
L. angustifolia “Hidcote” – is good for hedging, has a compact, erect habit, grey leaves and is strongly scented. The flowers are deep violet, and dense on stems of 30-35 cm. in length, appearing in early summer. It will grow 30 – 60cm., and spread to 30cm. It’s marked zone 5 and but does well in our zone 4 area near Apsley.
L. angustifolia “Munstead” – is another zone 5 , early flowering and strongly scented. The flowers are a bright lavender blue, in loose spikes to about 30cm. The plant grows to a height of 30-45 cm and 75 cm wide.
L. stoechas (French, Spanish Lavender) forms a dense bushy shrub with narrow light green leaves and dark purple flowers in spikes up to 3 cm., topped by purple-white bracts. Given lots of winter protection, in a city garden, it has been known to survive the winter but is given a zone 8 designation, I would prefer to pot it up and keep it in a cool sunny window.
There are also many culinary and medicinal uses for lavender, but that’s another story.