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English Lavender

Lavender. Deer, pest and disease resistant, drought tolerant, fragrant!

Deer resistant, fragrant, long blooming, drought tolerant, likes poor soil, good in containers or in the garden, edible, pretty much disease and pest resistant.  Have I described the perfect plant for you?   It’s nothing exotic or new, in fact it’s been around for a long, long time, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Roman times.  I wasn’t around then but somebody kept records and the plant I’m talking about is lavender.

Lavender automatically brings to my mind English gardens or lavender fields inFrance.  Its identifiable fragrance is used in soaps, potpourris, sachets, powders, essential oils, teas and candied decorations.  In the garden it’s a staple for me.  If I can’t walk through some part of my garden without being able to brush up to a lavender plant and inhale that fragrance then it’s just not a garden to me.

Lavendula angustifolia (meaning narrow leaf) is the most common, true English lavender.  Blue-ish  purple, white, yellow and pink varieties are available although the latter three are harder to get.

Spanish lavender, Lavendula stoechas, has a different flower with tufts (which is actually a bract) that looks a bit like bunny ears.  The French also lay claim to it and even the Italians as it is found growing wild in those regions.

Lavendula dentata, is known as French lavender however it is believed to have originated inSpain!  It has a serrated edge to its leaves which sets it apart from its Spanish and English friends.  I don’t really care where it all came from as long as it ends up in my garden.

All lavenders require full sun, at least six hours a day.  They won’t survive without it.  Think about where they come from, the sunnyMediterranean.  Light, well-drained, sandy soil and on the alkaline side is best.  Adding a bit of lime to your soil will help to sweeten it.

Usually I recommend using Sea Soil in any plantings but this is the one case where I don’t (although it’s killing me).  Lavenders like poor soil so that means no top dressing with Sea Soil, no composted manure and no fertilizer!   However if your soil is really, really bad then a bit of good compost is fine.

I get asked at the garden centre about how to prune lavender.  Pruning should be done to maintain the shape of the plant.  You can cut back the flower stems after they’ve faded or, if you want to make them into a sachet or dry them, then cut just before they open.  This will encourage more flowering.  However if you want to actually hard prune the plant then it’s best to do this in spring otherwise a particularly cold winter will do your plant in.

Never cut back so far that all you are left with is woody stems.  The plant can’t generate new growth at that point.  Also, I recommend that you take out no more than a third at any time.  Trim out dead branches and keep a fairly uniform shape to the plant, like a rounded cushion.

Now is the perfect time to plant lavender in your garden or line your driveway with them to make an informal but fragrant border or pot them up in containers for the deck.  We have a great selection at any given time at Cultivate and lavender makes a great Mother’s Day present.

Shirley Eppler

May 2011