Lavender For Your Garden

by kimbesa

If you’re looking to grow a garden plant with a big payoff, try lavender.

Lavender is a blooming perennial and there are many varieties that can work well in a spectrum of growing conditions.

If you like growing your own herbs, lavender could be the next one for you. Growing this fragrant beauty has big results if you want a fragrant, airy backdrop that attracts pollinators and gives extra texture to your landscape.

That doesn't even count the possibilities for uses in the home kitchen bath and bedroom.

Any garden spot you have, other than garden plots that are too wet or have too much shade, are possibilities for lavender. I grow mine in two raised beds, away from the rest of my herb garden, because I've mixed in with other harmonious colors and shapes.

You can enjoy lavender for the fragrance and its attractive power for bees and other beneficial insects. In a massed planting with lots of purple flower spikes, it’s just pretty, too!

I discovered that lavender was more than an old-fashioned herb a few years ago, when I was working on a hummingbird garden. It looked good, but I thought of it only as a fill-in plant.

Then the hummers liked it more than anything else I’d planted. They were supposed to like the red salvia and the snapdragons.

So I started planting lavender every year. I checked out varieties ahead of time, on the website of our favorite greenhouse. Most of my plants are Munstead and Hidcote. The fragrance is wonderful!

Lavender and Petunias
Lavender and Petunias
kimbesa

Lavender Varieties

Lavender originates in a dry, Mediterranean climate. French lavender is generally larger, with longer stems, and better adapted if your soil is sandy and dry. English lavender is smaller, more compact, with shorter bloom stems, and tolerates a cooler, wetter climate.

Many varieties available here as plants are tolerant to USDA Zone 5, well within bounds for the average winter temperatures we have. If you’re going to grow lavender where you are, be sure to check the specific variety for the recommended climate zones. Some plants won’t like more humid conditions further south. 

They all look similar and smell wonderful. As I’m learning, the visual differences involve do with the height they grown, the color of the flowers and leaves, and the timing of their bloom.

 Even after I saw the different tag notations about varieties of lavender, I didn’t pay too much attention. Now that I’m mostly done with the newbie phase, I can see that I want to understand the differences between different categories of lavender, the better to help me match the right lavender to my goals for growing it.

 Some Examples of Genus Lavandula:

  • True or common lavender (L. augustifolia): Munstead, Folgate, Hidcote, Big Time Blue, Elegance. Oils used for perfumes, also culinary use of the flowers.
  • Spike or broad leaf lavender (L. latifolia): Flowers appear on longer spikes. Oils used for soaps.
  • Lavandin, cross between true and spike lavender (Lavandula x intermedia): Phenomenal, Grosso. One benefit of these crosses appears to be improved winter hardiness. 

 

Lavender in the Garden at Bonneyville Mill
Lavender in the Garden at Bonneyville Mill

What Growing Conditions Does Lavender Like?

Lavender plants like full sun and well-drained soil. In the Great Lakes region here, we have lots of sandy loam, ideal for either French or English lavender. The latter category is more tolerant of wetter conditions.

Our biggest challenge with lavender seems to be the wet winter conditions. In the fall and early spring, gardens get soggy, which lavender doesn’t like. And I’ve found out the hard way that they appreciate some extra mulch to protect them in the winter.

Mulch for lavender should be sand, gravel or another light-colored type that will reflect light back into the plant and help it dry out quickly in the morning. This helps prevent fungus, which harms the plants.

Pollinators Love Lavender
Pollinators Love Lavender

How To Get Started Growing Lavender

This list will help you zero in on the best lavenders for your garden.
  • Evaluate your garden. Do you have space that is well-drained in full sun? Average pH? Then you have a place. If not, you can create this with inputs to your soil, or perhaps a dedicated raised bed or a container. I recommend a large one, because lavender looks best with several plants.
  • Check your zone. Match the variety of lavender to your area. If you’re in a tropical or frigid climate, lavender might not be right for your garden, or might not be winter hardy, even with help (such as planting along a foundation, near a south-facing wall and mulching well). You’ll also want to check for resistance to fungal disease if your climate is even moderately humid.
  • Choose a variety that meets your needs. Will you be growing primarily to attract and maintain pollinators like bees and butterflies, to add color, texture and fragrance to your garden, or to have your own source to explore culinary uses?
  • Find a source for plants you can rely on. Nothing is more disappointing than realizing that a plant was not what you ordered, or mislabeled. We have several good garden centers in this area, and we return year after year to our favorites.

There are also a number of good online sources for plants and seeds. (In the US, you might like Baker Creek, Botanical Interests or Seeds n’ Such.) I like to choose vendors in the Midwest, because that’s where my garden is, and I expect to find many choices that will grow well in this area.

Dragonfiles Love Lavender
Dragonfiles Love Lavender
kimbesa

What I Like About Growing Lavender

Lavender is pretty. It has an airy appearance with delicate flower spikes above gray-green narrow-leafed foliage. It makes a nice contrast with other plants, like pink petunias and dusty gray dichondra. Lavender gives a feeling of height without creating too much shade for other plants.

I like to plant my lavender in groups of three or more to give a good impression, because the flowers are tiny. A mass planting makes them stand out more. A long row or hedge is awesome when they are in bloom.

And lavender smells so good, too! The pollinators – butterflies and bees – like to visit the flowers. They are so tempted by the sweet fragrance that they will come up close to “human territory” near the house, and let you get close to view them (in most cases) because they are so entranced by the luscious nectar.

Critters that like to eat some our other plants don’t eat lavender, so that’s another benefit. No one likes their garden torn up by invaders. Pollinators are very welcome to enjoy all the nectar they can handle.

Watching the pollinators is fascinating!

I’ve seen more kinds of insects on lavender flowers than I can count: honey bees and bumble bees. Various kinds of butterflies, too. And the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds that we have in eastern North America are attracted by the sweet fragrance.

Lavender works well in a large planting or even a hedge. The more you plant, the more pollinating visitors you can attract.

 

Bees Love Lavender, Too
Bees Love Lavender, Too

From Seeds or Plants

I’m just learning how to reliably start plants from seeds, and I’ve read that lavender is difficult, though I see seed packets for several varieties offered in the garden section every year. My space to start my garden seeds is small, too, so I have just bought lavender plants up to now.

Next year, I will try to grow lavender from cuttings, starting with my existing plants and perhaps some newcomers, too. I have worked with rooting powder before, so I know how to use it. I also have had success with cuttings of other plants. Being careful to get the water and light in balance. Like Goldilocks: not too much, not to little.

Another way to propagate lavender is by layering, which might work even better than cuttings. You lay down a branch and pin it into the soil. The plant will root from the branch, and then you can separate it from the parent plant. 

Lavender at the Farm
Lavender at the Farm
kimbesa

More Lavender Next Year

As a gardener, I’ve never met a lavender I didn’t like. I’ve grown Munstead, Elegance, Folgate, Hidcote, Vicenza Blue, Big Time Blue and Phenomenal. My biggest challenge is winter hardiness. Some plants have not done as well as I would have liked.

I’ll keep adding to my lavender bed with different varieties, to spread out the bloom time over a longer season, and to experiment to see which ones do best in my particular garden.

I visited a local lavender farm for inspiration, after I’d been growing my own plants for a few years. This place is beautiful, and shows what you can do with space and the right growing conditions, especially if you want to get into lavender in a big way.

And farms like this have varieties that you might not have heard of. Often you can buy plants at these farms. The staff was also very helpful with information about which varieties would do best based on my questions.

Public gardens also offer inspiration on how to use lavender in your own garden, whether you want to include it in a section devoted to herbs or not. I have my lavender in two beds, both separate from my small culinary herb garden.

This arrangement works out well considering the sizes (somewhat small) and shapes (a lot of scattered raised beds) of my planting spaces.

There’s a lavender for just about every gardener, and no end to the enjoyment and beauty you can get from growing these lovely plants!

Lovely Lavender in the Garden
Lovely Lavender in the Garden
kimbesa

Good Books About Lavender

The Lavender Lover's Handbook: The 100 Most Beautiful and Fragrant Varieties for Growing, Craftin...

A gorgeous book for a deep dive into growing and using lavender.

View on Amazon

Growing & Using Lavender: Storey's Country Wisdom Bulletin A-155 (Storey Publishing Bulletin, a-155)

I have this booklet and it is very handy introduction to many uses of lavender, and descriptions to help you choose which one(s) to grow.

View on Amazon

Lavender: The Grower's Guide

You might want to get into growing lavender to make your own oils or to sell lavender-based, crafted items after looking through this book.

View on Amazon

Lavender So Pretty
Lavender So Pretty
kimbesa
Updated: 08/28/2017, kimbesa
 
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frankbeswick 25 days ago

Ah! The South of France is not humid. That might make a difference. Lavender can cope with damp, for I have seen it in Lyme Park in the English Peak District, where it is quite damp, but I don't think that the area is as damp as the Florida summers that you describe.

kimbesa 25 days ago

frankbeswick - I'm thinking the humidity in Florida would be the sticking point. I've been there in September when it was fine, dry weather, but not during the summer when it rains every day.

kimbesa 25 days ago

dustytoes - Lavender comes from the Mediterranean, so it would be close in climate to Florida, though somewhat wetter. Maybe in a large pot for extra drainage. Glad you like the pictures!

frankbeswick 25 days ago

Lavender grows well in the South of France, which is quite warm. How does the climate there compare with Florida? Are you warmer than the South of France in summer?

dustytoes 25 days ago

I love your photos. I've never grown lavender, and I doubt it would like the conditions here in Florida.

kimbesa 28 days ago

I still have a lot to learn about lavender!

kimbesa 28 days ago

frankbeswick - Thanks for that information! I still have blooming Munstead and I'm getting ready to try a new recipe, so I'll plan on using the flowers.

frankbeswick 28 days ago

SueM, Lavender belongs to the mint family, which is generally edible, though one should always check and research before eating a plant that is new to you or about which you know little. [One member of the mint family, pennyroyal, [Mentha pulegium] can cause miscarriages if eaten in quantity. ]

English lavender [Lavandula angustifolia] is considered edible and is sold as a herb for food flavouring. One cultivar of English lavender 'Munstead' is considered particularly favoursome. [Lavandula angustifolia 'Munstead'.] French lavender [Lavandula stoechas] can also be eaten and is used by French chefs.Remember, it is the petals that are used in food..

Lavender hybrids, known as lavendins, are grown as ornamentals and are not used for eating.

SueM 28 days ago

I'm also reminded that in French versus English lavender, I've ready that one is edible and one not - I always get confused about which is which however......

kimbesa on 08/22/2017

I've never thought about bringing it in, but perhaps, if I have enough space. It would make things smell good over the winter.

I've seen white and pink lavender at one of our local garden centers. Perhaps next year!


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