‘As Rosemary is to the Spirit, so Lavender is to the Soul,’Anonymous
I love growing lavender in the garden. When I walk down the front path my legs brush gently against the lavender plants and the distinct perfume wafts up through the air. This is why I grow lavender.
The image above is the very beginning of the lavender walk, an idea to soften the look of the very plain front path. I dug up a small section of the lawn and every so often I make it wider and wider. To fill both sides of the front path with lavender plants has been a challenge because several plants died for no apparent reason. Although I’ve replanted more, it has taken time for the new plants to catch up with the originals so I still have gaps.
Apart from the many stories written on the benefits and uses of lavender from culinary uses, aromatherapy and more esoteric ways the lavender flowers and oil can be of value. The aroma alone it is worth growing if not for the added attraction for bees to the garden. It also provides striking colour and softness for the garden when especially planted on mass, as a border or an underplant to roses.
In my experience growing lavender has been a study in extremes, as I have found lavender to either die straight away or, it is so hardy that it grows and grows with no effort at all. Lavender is now growing well under the standard roses and mixed with low growing Merrymaker roses on the front path. The best lavender plants I’ve grown are the smaller root stock plants. The root stock plants were less expensive and healthier than any larger plants from the nurseries that on the whole were unreliable and did not do well or were very inconsistent.
There are nearly 30 different types of lavender that are part of the mint family called Lamiaceae. Originally a Mediterranean plant with pink to white to purple flowers of varying shades. The following are the three main proper lavender types.
French lavender called Lavandula dentata is grown in Australia and has the pretty silvery serrated leaves and gentle mauve blooms. It flowers in winter and early Spring but like mine does it may flower all year. This plant unless a dwarf variety will grow large 150cm x 150cm. Recommended for warmer humid climates.
English lavender called Lavandula angustifolia has more narrow leaves with pink, purple or white flowers in Summer. The stems are long and very much liked by bees. This is the best choice for poorer soil in a hot, dry climate with cold winters. If you want to use the lavender for pot pourri or oil this is the one to grow. English lavender is recommended for areas that are cool and damp with a dry summer.
Italian lavender called Lavandula stoechas grows wild in the countryside in France, Spain and Italy. It flowers from winter into summer in purple, pink and cream or white ranges with the distinctive winged blooms. The stems are shorter and it can be confusing because it may also be called Spanish or French lavender. This type is best in dry climates and is drought tolerant.
There are also many types of hybrid lavenders one being called Lavandula Intermedia Grosso. This one is highly fragrant, a real magnet for bees and has rich looking mauve flowers on longish spikes. This lavender was developed to combine the cold hardiness of English Lavender with the heat tolerance of a Portuguese Lavender. It grows in tight mounds of lovely silver green foliage to around 90cm tall. If you are after the French Provencal look of Lavender in the garden then this is the one. It is available at Fernview
After seeing this plant for sale in Sydney I think growing lavender might be the most lucrative crop I’ve seen. $180 a pot!! Consider a root stock plant is under $5 and in one season would be as large as this!
According to the experts Lavender must have lots of sun, at least 6 hours a day, with well drained soil. The plants must be able to dry out in the soil before being watered again rather than growing with wet feet. Lavender plants will develop good deep root systems so they do not need too much water but they do like air movement. Also best not to give them much fertiliser except some dolomite and lime in Spring. Like all flowering plants extra Potassium will also help with brighter more intense colour in the blooms.
If you are looking for purple or mauve in the garden rather than the perfume aspect of lavender there are many types of salvias that are extremely hardy perennials, as a vigorous long flowering alternative to lavender. They are still part of the Lamiaceae mint family but are trouble free and very easy to grow. Lambley Nursery have many types of purple salvias including Nemorosa and Spanish Sage. Another alternative is Russian Sage ( although not an actual Sage) It has silvery, grey, stems grey green foliage and tall, airy, graceful lavender blue spires,
Increasing the bloom quality in lavender is all about pruning. According to local nurseries one should prune in Spring when the new growth starts. Take at least one third of the outer stems but not the inner wood of the plant. If the plant has already gone woody and open in the middle, prune a few of the oldest woody branches in the centre. Wait for the new growth and cut out some more of the woody stems.
Deadhead, spent blooms regularly, just like with roses, to make the growth thicker, fuller and less prone to becoming woody and straggly. Lavender does not last forever and the plants may need to be replaced every five to ten years.