Good garden lavenders

There are many lavender species and cultivars which make good garden and patio plants. Many new cultivars are coming to market to add to the 150+ already in existence. Most are the result of what could be described as passive breeding programmes, selections from a seed population with rather uncertain provenance. There are, however, some fine lavenders available as a consequence. More rigorous active breeding programmes are destined to result in greater improvements in commercial and garden cultivars.

The following selection is presented according to hardiness, one of the main criteria customers use when buying lavender. Experience has indicated that plants may survive temperatures about 5°C below those shown, provided it is not for long periods and the soil is relatively dry. Hence, the need for good drainage if lavenders are to thrive.

Very hardy lavenders

These traditional lavenders are the easiest to grow, most reliable and effective for the flower border or for hedging. Their unsurpassed scent and colour are evocative of summer. Hardy to at least — 15°C, they will cope with most conditions. They fall into two groups, true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Lavandin (L. x intermedia).

Lavandula angustifolia subspecies (subsp.) angustifolia (True Lavender) commonly and sensibly referred to as just angustifolia (although there is also an Lavandula angustifolia subsp. delphinensis and an Lavandula angustifolia subsp. pyrenaica), have a compact u-shaped habit and narrow grey-green leaves. Their short flower stalks and short round-topped flower spikes form about half the height of the plant. The flowers have a rich sweet scent in June and July. This is the most popular species grown in England for oil extraction, yielding high quality oils used for perfumes, aromatherapy, potpourri and for drying on the stalk. They are naturally distributed through Central and South West Europe.

‘Ashdown Forest’ is an extremely bushy lavender for a low hedge reaching 50 cm with pale purple flowers and a white eye to the corolla. It was introduced in the 1980s and although there are several similar cultivars, for instance ‘Cedar Blue’ and ‘Little Lady’, ‘Ashdown Forest’ was the first of the short, pale flowered cultivars.

‘Bowles Early’ which is also known by the synonyms ‘Bowles Variety’ and ‘Miss Donnington’, was introduced in 1913 and is a slightly taller bushy plant reaching 60 cm with pale purple flowers, although without the white eye to the corolla and therefore not as pale as ‘Ashdown Forest’.

‘Compacta’, also referred to as ‘Nana Compacta’ was introduced from the United States in 1901. It is similar to ‘Munstead’, but with larger steely-purple flowers and greyer foliage. It grows to 55cm.

‘Folgate’, introduced in 1933, is a little known, but good all-rounder with a colour midway between ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’. It reaches 60 cm with mid-purple-blue flowers. It is the blue tinge to the flowers that make this cultivar distinctive.

‘Hidcote’ is probably the most well-known lavender in cultivation, has deliciously dark purple flowers with grey foliage and reaches 50 cm. It was introduced in 1950.

‘Imperial Gem’, introduced in the 1980s is very similar, growing slightly taller and with more silvery foliage.

‘Hidcote Pink’, introduced in 1958 is a very pale pink lavender which looks fantastic with ‘Hidcote’, growing to the same height. The leaves are more grey and narrow and flowers lighter, than ‘Rosea’.

‘Little Lottie’ is a lovely little lavender with masses of pale pink flowers growing to just 40cm. It was introduced in 1998.

‘Loddon Blue’, introduced in 1963, is an excellent short hedging lavender growing to just 45cm with mid-purple-blue flowers.

‘Miss Katherine’, the darkest pink hardy lavender available, has star-shaped markings on the flowers when they first open. It grows to 60cm and was introduced in 1992.

‘Munstead’ has many synonyms, among them ‘Munstead Variety’, ‘Munstead Dwarf’, ‘Munstead Blue’. It was introduced in 1916 and has become a garden stalwart. Very bushy it reaches 60 cm with mid-purple flowers and green-grey foliage.

‘Nana Alba’, also known as ‘Dwarf White’, is a wonderful little plant slowly reaching just 40 cm with white flowers and green-grey foliage. It was introduced in 1938.

‘Princess Blue’, introduced in the 1980s, is a fine, upright plant growing to 60 cm with long, pale blue flowers some of which seem to linger longer than other Lavandula angustifolia cultivars.

‘Rosea’ has brilliant green foliage in the spring making this pale pink lavender distinctive. It grows to 60 cm and was introduced in 1937. It is very similar to, if not the same as both ‘Jean Davis’ and ‘Loddon Pink’.

‘Royal Purple’, introduced in the 1940s, is a gorgeous plant and tall for an Lavandula angustifolia growing to 75cm with long, purple flowers.

L. x intermedia (Lavandin) are sterile hybrids of Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia (Spike Lavender). They have a narrow base and an upright v-shaped habit. The grey-green leaves are broader, flower stalks and flower spikes longer and more pointed than Lavandula angustifolia. They also have lateral flowering shoots. The flowers are strongly scented, mildly camphoraceous and appear during July and August, but often continue into autumn. This is the most popular for oil extraction, higher yielding than Lavandula angustifolia, but producing lower quality camphoraceous oils, used in soaps, cosmetics and detergents. Widely used for drying off the stalk and for pot-pourri. They are naturally distributed in France, Italy and Spain.

‘Alba’ has been known in Europe since 1880. A marvellous plant with a fan-shaped habit forming a perfect dome of white flowers. It reaches 75 cm.

‘Dutch Group’ is the most widely grown of the lavandins. A real old favourite, introduced in 1920 and popularly called ‘Vera’, it is superb as a tall hedge, growing to 90 cm with pale purple flowers and distinctive grey foliage which looks good all winter.

‘Grappenhall, one of the earliest cultivars was introduced in 1902. It has unusual lilac-purple coloured flowers and very broad green-grey foliage which make this lavender quite different. It grows to 75 cm.

‘Grosso’, a French introduction in 1972, is a profuse flowering lavender, the most widely grown lavender for oil in the world. It reaches 75 cm with blue-purple flowers.

‘Hidcote Giant’ has very distinctive bushy purple flowers on stout stems which make it great as cut flower. It grows to 90 cm and has grey-green foliage. Introduced in 1958.

‘Old English’, introduced in the 1930s, is a lavender with typical cottage garden appeal, growing to 100 cm with clear pale-purple flowers.

‘Sussex’, has the longest flowers of any hardy lavender and makes this a remarkable plant. It grows to 90 cm with pale purple flowers.

Hardy lavenders

These lavenders are sufficiently tough to withstand all but the most severe weather, hardy as they are to — 10°C. There are several cultivars that fall into this category which are a hybrid of the species Lavandula lanata and the species Lavandula angustifolia. The two described below are particularly good. Both are only known from cultivation.

The Lavandula lanata Xangustifolia are similar in habit too, but more robust than, Lavandula lanata. The soft silvery-grey foliage provides a marvellous contrast with the strongly scented purple flowers which appear from late June to late July. These lavenders are sterile.

‘Richard Gray’ is a very tidy plant and keeps its shape well. It has round-topped purple flowers and grows to 50cm. Introduced in the 1980s.

‘Sawyers’, also introduced in the 1980s, is a taller form, reaching 70 cm, with large conical bushy purple flowers.

Frost-hardy lavenders

These are some of the most spectacular and increasingly popular lavenders. The flowers all have ‘ears’ on top. These ‘ears’ are sterile bracts (coma) and so have no flowers at their base, unlike the rest of the flower spike. With milder winters these lavenders are now more widely grown. They will survive to — 5°C and often to temperatures several degrees lower. They have a very long flowering season if dead-headed, from early May through to September and beyond, if there are no severe frosts. Most have a camphoraceously scented pale green foliage and a bushy habit, but no appreciable scent to the flowers. Those lavenders of interest in this range include some of the subspecies of Lavandula stoechas and the species L. viridis. They also include a few of the astonishing number of hybrids of Lavandula stoechas with L. viridis.

Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata often referred to as Spanish Lavender, but also known as ‘Papillon’. It is a graceful upright lavender. The long flower stalks (peduncles) are topped with purple flowers and beautiful long pale purple ‘ears’ that look magical fluttering in a summer’s breeze. They have very narrow pale green-grey leaves and will grow to 75 cm. It has a natural distribution across Central Spain and Portugal.

Willow Vale’, introduced from Australia in 1992, has a similar habit to L. pedunculata, although not quite so upright and with crinkly ‘ears’ that tend to lay more horizontal. The flowers are noticeably more purple. It grows to 60 cm.

Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas commonly known as French Lavender is a compact plant with purple flowers and short ‘ears’ on very short flower stalks. It grows to just 45 cm. This subspecies has a wide natural distribution including Madeira, the Middle East, North Africa, North East Spain to Turkey and Tenerife.

‘Kew Red’ is a most remarkable lavender with uniquely coloured cerise-crimson flowers and pale pink ‘ears’. If grown as a perennial it is best grown in a pot as it is not too tolerant of wet winters. It grows to 40 cm.

Forma leucantha the white French Lavender also known as ‘Snowman’ has a tidy rotund habit and grows to 45cm.

Typically the hybrids of Lavandula stoechas with L. viridis have masses of flowers and vigour.

‘Avonview’ is a splendid lavender with the longest and darkest purple flowers of all the crosses and broad pale purple ‘ears’. It grows to 60 cm and was introduced from New Zealand in 1992.

‘Fathead’, introduced by Downderry Nursery in 1997, has plump round flowers which distinguish this cross. The masses of long lasting dark purple flowers fade to pink with age. It reaches just 45 cm.

‘Helmsdale’ is a sensational robust lavender with unique, burgundy-purple flowers. It grows to 70cm and was introduced from New Zealand in the 1990s.

‘Marshwood’ is another New Zealand introduction in the 1990s. A striking, vigorous lavender with absolutely enormous purple flower spikes and pink ‘ears’. It reaches 90 cm.

‘St. Brelade’ a sweetly scented green-leaved lavender smothered with bright, pale purple flowers with dusky pink ‘ears’. It grows to 60 cm. Introduced from Jersey in 1995.

L. viridis, commonly known as green lavender, has amazing yellow-green flowers which makes this lavender distinctly different. The very green foliage has a strong and unusual lemon scent, particularly when bruised. It reaches 60 cm (24 in). It is naturally distributed in Madeira, South Portugal and South West Spain.

Half-hardy lavenders

These lavenders will thrive if given just a little protection to keep them above 0°C. A dry bed at the base of a sheltered south facing wall is often sufficient.

Well worth considering are two species Lavandula dentata and Lavandula lanata and one hybrid Lavandula lanata with Lavandula dentata.

Lavandula dentata are known as fringed lavender. They derive their name from the toothed (dentate) leaves which have a richly aromatic lavender-rosemary scent. They will flower almost continuously if dead-headed, the pale purple flowers, with their short tuft of ‘ears’ atop, rise above a spreading, but upright bush. It is native to Algeria, Arabia, Balearic Islands, Morocco, South and East Spain, Tenerife and Yemen.

‘Linda Ligon’ is a delightful and unusual variegated lavender, growing to 60 cm with pale purple flowers and green splashed cream toothed foliage. It was introduced from the United States in 1996.

‘Ploughman’s Blue’, introduced from New Zealand in 1996, has luxuriant green foliage and grows to 75 cm with pale purple flowers. It is a particularly hungry cultivar in a pot, but grows splendidly in the garden.

Varietas candicans is a stunningly attractive soft, silver leaved Lavandula dentata growing to 75 cm with pale purple flowers. This is the toughest of all the Lavandula dentata species and will survive outside in a pot in a sheltered position against a south-facing wall, if the compost is kept dry.

Lavandula lanata, known as Woolly Lavender due to its broad woolly leaves, has beautiful strongly scented slender violet flowers rising above silver foliage from late June to late July. It reaches 50 cm and is naturally distributed in Southern Spain.

Lavandula lanata X dentata ‘Goodwin Creek Gray’ is a remarkable bushy lavender that deserves to be more widely grown. The broad toothed foliage is velvet to the touch and long, slender, blue flowers appear from June to September if dead-headed. It grows to 75 cm. Introduced from the United States in the 1990s.

Tender lavenders

These include some of the most beautiful and delicate lavenders. Their spectacular flowers can be enjoyed all year round if grown in pots. They make a delightful display outside from May to October, but need to be brought in before the first frosts and kept warm at around 5ºC. All have spiralling triple flower spikes in a trident formation on each long flower stalk, but have no scent. Most have unusually scented lacy (pinnate) foliage and a spreading, but upright habit. Regularly dead-heading keeps the blooms coming. Five species are worth considering.

L. buchii varietas buchii is a gorgeous silver leaved lavender with blue-purple flowers reaching 60 cm and is native to Tenerife.

L. canariensis is a breathtakingly beautiful lavender. The intense blue flowers above fresh green foliage are an astonishing sight all summer. It reaches 60 cm and is native to the Canary Islands.

L. x christiana is a sterile hybrid of L. canariensis and Lavandula pinnata, it is often mistakenly sold as Lavandula pinnata. This exceptionally vigorous lavender has the most enormous blue flower spikes above grey foliage. It can grow to 100 cm, but is more typically 75 cm native to Tenerife.

L. minutolii is a very attractive lavender with deliciously sweet-scented foliage (Figure 6.5). The green-grey felty and deeply-cut arrow-head shaped leaves are topped with blue-purple flowers. It grows to 60 cm and is naturally distributed on the Canary Islands.

Lavandula pinnata is a delightful compact pale purple-pink flowered lavender reaching just 40 cm with flat, lobed foliage. Naturally distributed on La Palma, Lanzarote, Madeira.