The soft scent and hazy purple tints of lavender never fail to conjure up memories of long summer days in the garden. Lavender loves my local chalky soil, even self-seeding along our paths and verges. Originating from the Mediterranean, this versatile sub-shrub positively thrives in poor, dry soils – so it’s ideal for sunny spots with shallow, infertile ground where more demanding plants would suffer.
Lavender for Structure
Lavender has an almost infinite variety of uses - both in the garden and the house. Compact varieties such as ‘Hidcote’ can be planted as low hedges along paths, at the edge of herbaceous borders or to define vegetable beds. These soft hedges add structure to the garden and provide a wonderful sensory experience as you brush past the foliage and release that heady, luscious scent.
We interplant our lavender hedge with crimson aubrietia, which provides colourful ground cover spilling over the path before the lavender has begun to flower. For a gloriously scented hedge under a window, you could also use ‘Hidcote’. In my front garden, we have planted alliums through our ‘Hidcote’ to extend the season of colour and interest from late spring right through to late summer.
Lavender also makes a wonderful specimen plant – especially taller varieties such as lavandin (L. x intermedia) which is a cross between English lavender (L. angustifolia) and Portuguese lavender (L. latifolia). Of the English lavenders, our three beautiful white L. angustifolia ‘Alba’ in the front garden lead the eye through the border and add interest in mid to late summer whilst in the back garden, ghostly L. angustifolia ‘Blue Ice’ thrives interplanted between individual rosemary bushes in a very shallow, stony area. For a different take on the classic lavender blues and mauves, why not try a pretty pale pink-flowering variety such as ‘Rosea’ to ring the changes.
Pink 'rosea' lavender
White 'alba' lavender
Drought Tolerant Planting
As droughts become more commonplace, plants like lavender are ideal for coping with reduced watering regimes. In our dry border, we combine L. angustifolia ‘Munstead’ with other drought-tolerant plants in blue and purple shades such as Russian sage (Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’) and globe thistle (Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’), alongside the warm orange tones of yarrow (Achillea ‘Terracotta’) to create a sizzling border that has never required watering, even on the hottest of summer days.
Less hardy species such as French lavender (L. stoechas) work well in containers so they can be brought into a more sheltered spot over the winter. I like the combination of French lavender with the dark foliage of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’) or other scented perennials such as dianthus and chocolate cosmos. Try adding the creamy-white flower spikes of L. stoechas ‘Tiara’ or the deep pinky-red blooms of compact L. stoechas ‘Kew Red’.
To create the ideal conditions for lavender in containers, use a container (at least 30-40cm) with large drainage holes. Fill with a peat-free soil-based compost mixed with 25% grit and ensure that the container is placed in full sun. Water well initially and thereafter water sparingly. Move the container into a sheltered, frost-free position during winter.
Perfect for Pollinators
Butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects are drawn to lavender’s lovely flower spikes to feed on the plentiful nectar. As a result, our dry border has also become our most popular area for pollinators. Not only does lavender bring the garden alive by attracting insects during the summer, but even in autumn the seed heads will attract birds such as goldfinches to feed on the seeds. Although conventional advice is to cut back lavender after flowering, leaving a few flower spikes throughout winter creates an additional food source for seed-eating garden birds.
It’s worth collecting some blooms during the flowering season to dry for winter. They make pretty dried arrangements and the flowers are perfect for scenting drawers and as hanging Christmas decorations – we’ve added our lavender petals as the stuffing in little colourful owls! We also use dried flowers (provided they have been grown organically) to make lavender sugar and to add flavour (when used sparingly) to cakes and biscuits.
Some of the myriad of uses for lavender
Happy gardening in this time of isolation, take care and remember we're still open for business and lavender will be available for delivery in May.
The Ashridge Nurseries Team