Lavender, Varieties and Culture

With silvery foliage and a tidy growth habit, lavenders add volume and vertical interest to the border.

As a subtle blue note among the yellows or for fragrance in the low maintenance garden, lavender offers months of dependable bloom. The soft grey-green color of its stems and leaves artfully blend with or accent other greens and colors in the landscape creating a montage that Monet would be proud of. Cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages because of its antiseptic properties, lavender has long been the signature fragrance of French-milled soap and bath products.

Dried lavender finds its place now in long lasting floral arrangements and home-scent sachets as well as the French cook’s spice cabinet.

Lavender care and culture
Although a Mediterranean native thriving in semi-arid conditions, lavender plants adapt to other climates well. In humid inland areas, air circulation between plants is important. In cool coastal settings, locate in the sunniest spot in the garden. Poor drainage and overwatering can lead to root-rot, one of the only diseases that lavender succumbs to. Fertilizer is not necessary and mulching with sand or gravel insread of organic material encourages better drainage. To maintain plants, shear back by one third every year when bloom finishes. Californians depend on the deer resistance of lavender throughout the varied terrains of the state for eco-friendly landscaping along with native plants. Bees, butterflys and hummingbirds are attracted to lavender’s fragrant presence encouraging the preservation of these important species. Lavender plants can be added to the garden spring through summer, performing well into fall when given sufficient water. For a range of varieties see: www.jacksonandperkins.com.

Lavender names and classes
The main classifications of lavender include English, Spanish and French. Many dozens of hybrids have been developed; some so unique that they have qualified as a new class. When a plant is named L[avender] followed by a Latin word as in L.augustifolia it is a class. The name may be followed by a variety name as in Hidcote or Alba. Unless plants come from hybridizer sources that sell many kinds of lavender, probably only the most common names will be used.

A visit to a lavender farm can be an eye opener about the huge selection of different types and their uses.

English Lavender (L.augustafolia)
May be sold commercially as violet Hidcote Alba (white) and Munstead (blue) or generically English Lavender. Low plant, narrow stems held 4-12 in. above with 4 in. unbranched blooms. May repeat. Many shades of purple, pinks. Dozens of varieties including:

Hedge Lavender: A hybrid English sometimes called Dutch. Large fat flower spike, branching, humidity tolerant, vivid blue-violet.

French Lavender (L.dentata)
Silver green toothedge leaves, pink-lavender blue, rounded spikes topped by two "fish tails", all summer bloom, year round in mild zones. 12-18 in. height. Hybrids include:

Sweet Lavender (L.x heterophylia): Wild cross of French. Mid-summer, strong scent, weather hardy. Whorl of violet flowers around spikes.

Spanish Lavender (L.stoechas)
2 ft. stocky plant. Heat, drought-hardy. Varietals of white through maroon-violet. Tail like bracts on top. Hybrids: Spanish White, Wings of Night, Atlas

Wooly Lavender (L.lantana)
Near white fuzzy-leaved 2 x 3 ft. Branching 10-18" stems bear deep blue 4" spikes. Needs perfect drainage. Hybrids: Richard Gray, Silver Frost

Canary Island (L. caneriensis)
3 x 4 ft. Large bushy plant. Lavender-blue spikes held high above larger ferny leaves. Spring-Fall bloom. Light pruning only.

White or Green Lavender (L.Viridris)
3 ft plant; dense growing cylindrical white or cream flowers, yellow or green fishtails. Hybridizer with L.stoechas to produce unusual chartreuse leaves and many pink shades.

Drying Lavender
Lavender holds its scent for years and has always been used for sweetening closets and cupboards. Its clean smell appeals to those who choose natural not chemical air fresheners. When the flower spikes reach their peak, clip stems as long as possible. Bundle together a nosegay and tie with string. Hang upside down away from direct light indoors until dry and stems are stiff. These are now suitable to arrange in baskets or vases with other plant material. The flowers also may be stripped from the stems to use in potpourri or sachets. For plants and dried flower products or just good ideas visit: http://phlavender.stores.yahoo.net.