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By Charlie Nardozzi, gardening expert and author.
While most people's vision of lavender plants is large fields growing in Provence, France, it is a stalwart in the perennial home garden, too. My first experience with lavender was in California. On the West Coast, this fragrant perennial is a shrub that is not only used in flower and herb gardens but is also planted with other low-growing shrubs and is used in formal gardens as a hedge or border.
The key is to grow the right lavender varieties for your area and climate, and to choose ones that are good companions with your flowers.
How to Choose the Best Lavender
There are about 39 species of lavender. The main types of lavender are English, French, Spanish and Lavandin hybrids.
The English Lavender types are probably the most familiar. These bloom from spring to early summer. Once finished blooming and deadheaded (the spent blooms removed), they are attractive, mounded, fragrant plants in the landscape with their blue-green leaves.
Some of the best varieties of English lavender include 'Hidcote' with its dark purple flowers. 'Jean Davis' is a pink-flowering version.. 'Munstead' is cold tolerant in winter and heat tolerant in summer, making it a good all-around variety.
Munstead is the best choice for northern lavender growers because it consistently survives the Northeast's harsh winter.
SuperBlue' is a compact and fragrant Lavender plant that tops out at 12", making it a perfect choice for edging walkways and setting into patio containers. This English Lavender...
'Provence' Lavender is tolerant of poor soils and a true heat lover; it's even known to withstand heavy doses of summertime humidity. One of the tallest and most fragrant varieties, ...
'Phenomenal' Lavender has it all: exceptionally tolerant of both high heat and harsh winter, this easy-to-grow lavender even shows resistance to the effects of humidity. Highly fragr...
'Hidcote' is a compact English Lavender that grows only 18-20 inches tall, with highly fragrant, deep purple-blue flowers. Excellent for both fresh and dried bouquets, this lavender ...
'Munstead' Lavender is an English Lavender that has fragrant, cool lavender-blue spikes and gray-green, mounded foliage. You can tuck this lavender into your herb garden, but we lov...
Lavandins are English lavender hybrids. These hybrids are workhorses in the lavender patch. They have large, gray leaves. They grow faster and larger than regular English lavenders, yet they still have the fragrance and plant qualities you'd expect from this group.
Lavandins bloom conveniently right after the traditional English lavenders are finished, extending the flowering season. Like English lavender they are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10.
'Phenomenal' is a standout variety for both hot and cold climates. Its ability to tolerate humidity have made it the go-to lavender for the Southeastern US, while its ability to survive winter without much dieback have increased its popularity in northern locations..
Some nice choices within the Lavandin group include 'Grosso' with its long purple flower wands. There's a white flowering version of 'Grosso' as well. 'Edelweiss' is a white flowering, very fragrant Lavandin. 'Provence' is a classic Lavandin with fragrant, purple flowers, high in essential oils that are used in the French perfume industry.
French lavender varieties are hardy to zones 8 to 10, not commonly used in culinary dishes and not as fragrant or showy as the English lavender. They have gray, serrated leaves. Keep these cut back to 3 feet tall to maintain the quality of the plant.
’Goodwin Creek Grey' is a nice French lavender variety. Yellow lavenders such as 'Chiffon Yellow' blooms around the time of French lavender and grows in a similar setting. It has attractive yellow-colored foliage and flowers that are mostly used for ornamental purpose.
Spanish lavender such as 'Anouk' is also mostly used for the plant's beauty and eucalyptus fragrance, and not as much in the kitchen. It's hardy to zones 8 to 11 and is better adapted to humid conditions than other lavenders. These lavenders are known for their unusual two-toned, pineapple-shaped blooms.
Whatever variety of lavender you decide to grow, be creative about where in the landscape you'll plant it.
Lavender thrives in full sun, well-drained soil, and without competition from other plants. Planting lavender where it will not thrive eventually spells death to that plant.
Certainly if your goal is a small cottage industry of dried lavender flowers, sachets, and potpourris for sale, plant in rows leaving enough space not only for the lavender plants to grow, but for you to harvest and work around them.
If you're growing lavender just for personal use in the kitchen, keep it close at hand. Considering planting it with other herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, that you'll be using daily close to the kitchen and house. They will be in the right location for a quick run outside to harvest a few fresh leaves for your Herbs de Provence when cooking. However, given the choice between 'close to the house' and the 'right growing conditions', always choose the latter.
Learn more about growing lavender for its culinary and craft uses.
In the flower garden I like to plant lavender in raised beds or on sandy loam soil in the front of the border, so that I can enjoy the pastel purple, pink, white or pale yellow flowers. Lavender can easily get lost in the landscape if planted too far back in a border, or next to marauding bullies such as bee balm and phlox.
Lavender can also be grown in containers:
While lavender does need good drainage and is drought tolerant, in a container it will need to be watered regularly, especially during hot weather.
In climates where the ground freezes, protect container lavenders in winter by moving them to an unheated garage or basement. Reduce watering to keep the soil barely moist.
Cut back the plants severely in spring to encourage new growth and fertilize with fish emulsion to stimulate more foliage.
About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for great how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.
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