We grow the best, and hardiest, English & Dutch Lavenders for garden and culinary use. They make a lovely addition to a garden, patio, or balcony with their profuse flowers, attractive evergreen foliage, and fantastic scent. They are one of only a few culinary herbs that look good in ornamental schemes outside the kitchen garden (as well as in it). A naturally small, bushy shrub, it is one of the most effective ornamental hedging and edging plants: a go-to choice to soften straight lines, blurring the lines of terraces, steps, or paths, and a shrub rose border walled off with lavender is a classic combination.
Choose from blue, pink and white flowered lavender in a range of sizes, all of which should be planted (if you want a hedge) at about 3 per metre.
All varieties will grow into thick little ornamental hedges, perfect for covering up the base of a rose border. If you live in the sunnier, warmer Southern and Western parts of England and Wales, every variety will thrive without bother. For the rest of the island, Hidcote and Munstead are the toughest varieties, and will look lovely for several more years than the others without any protection in winter: all lavender naturally declines in aesthetic appeal after about a decade, even with diligent care. Butterfly lavender is the most tender of the bunch, and in colder regions it's usually best to grow it in pots and take it indoors overwinter to keep it happy.
The scent of the English / true lavenders (L. angustifolia) and the hybrid Dutch lavenders, or lavandins (L. intermedia), is quite different. For packing pot-pourris and other scented items like candles, the lavandins produce more oil than English lavender, with a stronger fragrance, more stimulating and energising, thanks to a higher camphor content, which also makes them better for insect repellents. Lavandula angustifolia varieties are much sweeter and more soothing, so they are best for cooking with, and many people prefer their milder scent when it's right up close in aromatherapy or under their pillow.
All lavender loves a dryish, windy place in the sun, and none can stand damp feet. The best time to plant is into warm soil, usually from late April/early May (depending on our ‘characterful’ climate) through to early August.
Being of Mediterranean origin, they thrive in a poor, free draining soil and full sun. A heavy or clay soil can be improved by adding matter to help drainage, such as leaf mould and gravel, and a good tip is to create mounds of soil to plant into, or low raised beds, which keeps the base of the plants above the wet ground.
When planting a lavender hedge, it is best plant on a low ridge to improve air flow (in most gardens) and allow 3 plants per metre (one every 33cms). Pruning should be carried out every autumn, in order to keep plants looking bushy and healthy. It involves careful clipping of the foliage, back to around 2cm of new growth. Lavenders do not take kindly to hard pruning, so cutting back into old woody growth should be avoided. A bit of commitment to dead-heading your lavender regularly through the season will encourage plenty of repeat flowering. A great task to occupy the kids!
Read more about growing Lavender here.
The flower heads contain the most oil immediately after their full bloom, when the very first florets begin to wither, but most are still looking lovely. However, if you want to use the lavender as a dried flower with ornamental value, without processing it to extract the oil, then we recommend harvesting it earlier, when about half the buds on a flower head are still closed. There will still be plenty of oil in them by this stage, and they will stay in one piece after drying and inevitably being knocked around in the process.
To dry bundles of lavender flowers on the stalk, hang them upside down somewhere dark and well ventilated, with something underneath them to catch any heads that fall off.
Queen Victoria was a lover of lavender scented items, ordering it in everything from wood polish to bath water and laundry soap. This made these products fashionable with the ladies of the day, which led to English lavender becoming a profitable industry; it takes 100-130kg of flowers to produce one kilo of lavender essence. Hard to image today, but the main growing areas were around Merton in South London, which was still Surrey in those days. At the height of its popularity in the Victorian era, Hitchin growers Perks and Llewellyn were cultivating over 100 acres of lavender. The rise in land prices after the First World War pushed the growers out of business, and now most commercial lavender growing is in Provence, where the vast expanses of purple and blue, contrasted with sunflowers and wheat in peak season, against a backdrop of picturesque lakes, historical villages and churches are an iconic image and a huge tourist attraction. Essential lavender oil from the Haute-Provence region (the best-known region is the Valensole Plateau) is a certified product with AOP status, and 10ml of essential lavender oil sells for around £6 in the UK. These days, lavender is more popular than ever in a wide range of edible products, from teas to honey, chutney, ice-cream, chocolate and fudge, and British lavender fields are making a comeback, mainly in Kent, the Cotswolds and Norfolk.
The Romans introduced lavender to Britain, using the flowers to scent and wash themselves (lavender is from the Latin lavare, to wash). Their legionaries also carried bundles of it with them on campaign to use as an antibacterial agent in bandages. Later, it was used as a nosegay on London streets to mask the stench of everyday life. By the 17th century, many houses had rooms where essences were distilled for use by the household. As one of the key ingredients of the traditional apothecary, it is a must for a medicinal herb patch. A quick remedy for bee stings is to use a paste of baking soda and water to neutralise the sting, letting it dry for a few minutes, then applying a drop of lavender oil to soothe and disinfect the wound. It is a salve for stress and insomnia, and soothes post-surgery pain. Its clean, refreshing scent, when dried and stuffed into linen pillows, is greatly enhanced with eucalyptus prunings: hung strategically in the shower cubicle, they will lend a spa-like scent and relaxation to your ablutions (whale music optional).
Lavandula angustifolia, meaning 'narrow leaf', is known as "English lavender" (sorry, Romans), and was formely classified as Lavandula officinalis, which refers to its belonging to a storeroom as a medicinal plant: a name common among medicinal and useful herbs; Salvia, Pulmonaria, Rosmarinus, Borago, Hyssopus all share the botanical epithet 'officinalis'. Also known among breeders as 'true' lavender, it is the most reliable in our British weather.
The silvery sheen of the oily leaves is a common and effective design among plants from arid areas that reflects the rays of the sun. The slim, sturdy leaves lose less water from evaporation and are resistant to coastal gales.
Trimming Lavender in Late Summer / Early Autumn (Video)