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Gardening With Lavender - Choosing Varieties

Valued for its foliage as well as its flowers, lavender has been cultivated as a garden ornamental for centuries but it’s probably never been more fashionable than now. Interest in the genus continues growing. There are as many as 32 species of lavender plus numerous hybrids and cultivars and tempting new varieties arrive in the nurseries every summer.

The growth habits of the various lavenders differ widely and create different patterns and textures in a garden design. These can only be judged in mature plantings, not from young nursery plants in pots or black bags. You may want the quiet velvety mounds of French lavender types (L dentata), the richly coloured flowers of the Spanish lavender (L stoechas) or the Ebullient growth of the ‘Margaret Roberts’ lavender (L intermedia).


WHAT'S IN A NAME?

For many gardeners, the Latin names of plants may seem an unnecessary complication but in fact, they are usually the only way to be sure of getting exactly the plant you want. They’re worth mastering because once you understand the botanical system of family, genus, species, hybrid and cultivated variety (cultivar) it helps you understand how the plants are related and how the differences and similarities of cultivars have evolved.


This is especially helpful with the lavenders, where things are even more complicated.

Because the genus Lavandula has been cultivated for so long many of the old favourites are hybrids and not species, which has led to considerable confusion of names. There are however some registered cultivars on the market where you can be reasonably sure of what you’re getting.


But the bottom line is this: If you ask for English, French, Dutch or Spanish lavender, you might not get the one you’re looking for. It’s best to go according to type. Try to make sure that you have the Latin name eg Lavandula dentata or the name of the cultivar which is the one in quotes eg Lavandula stoechas "After Midnight". If you can’t be sure of the name, don’t buy a lavender bush that’s not in flower.


There are more than 32 species of lavender plus numerous hybrids and cultivars.


Lavandula dentata: Most gardeners know as French lavender - a fat velvety bush with toothed, ridged leaves and dense flower heads – not fully hardy but very good for decorative use. Some varieties have grey-blue foliage, others grey-green, a variation which can be used to good effect in planting schemes.


Lavandula stoechas: Variously called Spanish or Mediterranean lavender - a dense, bushy shrub with smooth-edged leaves and boxy little flower heads with large, colourful bracts at the tip. The flowering season, from late winter into spring, is short but both plants and flowers are highly decorative and there are cultivars in every shade of mauve and purple as well as maroon and white. Fairly frost-hardy.


Lavandula x allardii: This is a hybrid of L latifolia (the medicinal lavender) and L dentata, resulting in a very large, handsome shy-flowering bush with broad scallop-edged leaves, which is the preferred variety for formal hedging.


Lavandula x intermedia: This is an old, very variable hybrid, a cross between Langustifolia and L latifolia, resulting in grey to silvery bushes with smooth or scallop-edged leaves, elongated flower heads on long stems and a marvellous scribbly, fine-textured growth. The variety "Margaret Roberts" is registered in South Africa. It flowers nearly all year round and is fully hardy. This lavender is often incorrectly named English Lavender.


Lavandula ‘Sidonie’: Australian lavender – has a very different look from the others and an altogether more open growth habit. It has feathery leaves and branched flower spikes of deep violet-blue. Frost-tender.



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