There are a few plants for the garden that are instantly recognisable and firm favourites year after year. Lavender is one such plant and I think no garden can do without at least a few of these Mediterranean beauties. There are so many great things about these evergreen shrubs native to the old world- from across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and across the Cape Verde and Canary Islands to Northern and Eastern Africa as well as some parts of Asia. From its delicious scent and hence its benefits in the aroma and beauty trade to its uses in the culinary world, as well as its medicinal properties-this shrub is true multi-tasker.
First of all it is a beautiful and stylish plant that comes in many varieties meaning that there is really a Lavender for almost every garden style and design. Lavender is one of 39 species from the genus Luminaceae– meaning it actually belongs to the mint family and there are many cultivated species of Lavender which vary significantly in size and shape. They also come in many colour variations from mauve, lilac purples, whites and blues-all of which took wonderful mixed together in a complimentary colour scheme.
There are many more reasons to grow this plant however than just its pretty appearance. Lavender, who’s name comes from from lavanda -meaning to wash, is a fascinating plant with a long history of medicinal uses. In World War I it was used in hospital as a cure for insomnia and to cleanse and even today it is often used in its essential oil form as a calming and sleep-inducing scent. Research also suggests that the herb is effective in treating numerous neurological diseases. Within your own home you can use lavender to aid sleep and it is a great plant for making potpourri sachets which can be used to deter moths in drawers.
While it may deter moths from clothing it certainly does not deter wildlife from the garden and the scent of this shrub is a magnet for bees and butterflies. On a sunny day my own lavender border in the garden becomes a buzzing scene of insect life.
When considering these shrubs from a design angle they work wonderfully interplanted within a border but they also look fantastic lining edges of pathways or patios where their delicious scent can be enjoyed as one passes them. It also looks great as an accent plant and is wonderful choice for containers and window boxes for patios and the smaller garden.
Another reason to choose one of these beauties is the long flowering season and if you plan well you can have lavenders blooming from early summer well into Autumn.
Caring for your lavender plants
Many of my clients ask me why Lavenders start to go leggy and are hesitant to include them in their own garden. The main things about keeping your lavenders looking good is creating the right conditions for them to grow and to prune them to avoid them becoming messy. Loose, well drained soil is absolutely key to the plants growing well and I always mix plenty of grit into the soil where it is to grow whether that’s a container or an existing border. When newly planted they need to be watered well to get a good start. Pruning is the second key to a happy plant and if you don’t these lovely shrubs will soon turn into leggy, scraggly looking shrubs with minimal flowering. Pruning will rejuvenate the plant and keep them in shape but different types of lavender will need different pruning. Generally the traditional English lavenders and its hybrids will benefit from an overall clipping once it finishes flowering while the Stoechas will benefit from regular deadheading throughout the season to prolong flowering.
With so many varieties and colour possibilities you might be wondering how do I choose the right lavender for my garden? Here is a breakdown of the main types and some suggestions for varieties to grow in your own space:
The main types of Lavender
This Lavender, which is also referred to as common or true lavender is one lavender that is cultivated for its high quality oil. Cultivars from this lavender generally have narrow, grey-green leaves and short spires of flowers. It has a compact habit and is a wonderful plant to grow along pathways as it generally remains quite neat.
GROW: I love the Lavandula angustifolia ‘Melissa lilac’ for its large lilac blooms in Summer. This grows to about 60cm high and 75cm wide. Cut back stalks after flowering and trim in April being careful not to cut into old wood.
Lavandula x intermedia
This plant is also known as the Lavandin plant and though they are slightly less hardy than the angustifolia varieties they make up for this in stature.
They have a beautiful growing form and its dense spikes of flowers in Summer always make me think of the lavender fields in the Provence. These are in fact the flowers which are grown commercially in the Mediterranean region for their high yield in oil, though the quality is somewhat less than that of the angustifolia. These flowers also tolerate drought better than the anguvstifolia so are great for mediterranean gravel gardens with dry soil.
GROW: Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’. This vigorous English lavender grows to 1 metre in height and spread and has stunning vivid purple flowers in July and August. It is a wonderful addition to a mediterranean style garden design and also works really well in a contemporary garden planted en masse. To trim cut the flowers after they finish flowering and cut back in April, again taking care not to cut into old wood.
This plant is also known as French Lavender or butterfly lavender and has distinctive flat round flowerhead with butterfly light petals which emerge at the tip. Though quite different in appearance from the other Lavenders this variety is just as much a magnet for bees and butterflies and also has some stunning colours to choose from.
GROW: Lavandula pedunculata subsp. pedunculata. This neat variety which grows to about 60cm height and spread has wonderful mauve flowers and is a perfect choice for a sunny border near a seating area. The scent is heavenly-almost green and minty fresh. To keep them looking neat dead-head the flowers after they have faded and try the stalks. In April cut back the stems but avoid cutting into old wood.
Lavender in Art
When it comes to garden art there are plenty of talented artists who do botanical illustrations. Most approach the subject in a relatively traditional way in showing the flowers in great detail and exactly as they are in real life. The artworks by Dublin based illustrator Sally Caulwell however take a completely different approach. By bringing bold, geometric forms into her works her studies of nature are fresh and totally unique. The prints are available to buy from her gorgeous website www.sallycaulwell.com with prices starting at €25.