Which type of lavender to grow?
Most lavenders need dry heat in summer to grow well. In areas which have wet or humid summers look for tolerant species and varieties including Allard’s lavender, Lavandula x allardii, and forms such as ‘Sidonie’ which are cultivars of L. canariensis. Also useful are fringed lavender, L. dentata, and its cultivars. Lavandula stoechas (French lavender) has the distinction of showy, leaf-like purple tufts at the top of each flower spike, which remain after the dark purple flowers have faded. Grow one of its many cultivars such as ‘Fairy Wings’ at the foot of standard roses as a decorative fringe. (This lavender species is sometimes considered a weed.)
An alternative for cool climates is the pure white-flowered ‘Nana Alba’, a variety of L. angustifolia. It blooms from summer to autumn, and makes an attractive foil for richly coloured plants.The deep purple ‘Hidcote’ variety of English lavender is more compact than the species and reaches a height of up to 60 cm. Its deep purple flowers combine well with delicate pink roses.
Where to grow lavender
Warm, dry conditions suit lavender best. Plant in any well-drained soil in a sunny position where the roots will seek moisture deep in the soil. Lavender often does well in heavy soil for a while, but winter waterlogging may well shorten its life. Take cuttings early in autumn to grow replacement plants.
The best soil for lavender
Many lavenders come from poor soils around the Mediterranean. This area has soils that are well drained but rich in lime. When planted in acidic soils, lavenders appreciate the addition of lime to the soil. If your soil is very acidic, grow lavenders in pots containing potting mix.
Planting new lavender plants
Take 7.5-10 cm heel cuttings from semi-woody non-flowering lavender shoots in autumn. Insert in pots of propagating mix and overwinter in a polystyrene box. They can be moved to their flowering positions early in spring. A small piece of concrete rubble beside plants provides lime.
Scented lavender pathways and hedges
Plant Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender), which has a height and spread of about 1 m, beside a path. The silver-grey foliage exudes as much scent on sunny midwinter days as the flowers do from midsummer to autumn.
For a fragrant hedge with a profusion of flowers in summer, plant different lavender species to give shades of purple, mauve, pink and white. The plants’ size and spread will vary, so clip the hedge to a uniform height.
Cut off the dead flower stems and lightly trim the plants in late summer. Straggly plants may be cut back hard in early spring to promote bushy growth and encourage new shoots. However, lavender plants are inclined to grow leggy with age and it is recommended to replace them after five or six years.
To dry lavender, pick it when the flowers show colour but before they are fully open. Cut off the full length of the flower stalks, tie them together in small bunches and hang them upside-down in a cool, airy place to dry.