Choosing the Right Lavender for your Garden

Ah lavender. What’s not to love? What other plant gives you so many benefits for so little effort. It comes in all kinds of colors. Yes, not just lavender. But also blues and pinks and whites. It is beneficial for so many insects in your garden, not to mention bees and butterflies. And the fragrance. The fragrance is enchanting.

So, the biggest problem with lavender is what to choose. There are so so many choices.

French Lavender – Lavandula x intermedia

First, let’s look at the different kinds of lavender. There is the English Lavender, sometimes called True Lavender. Technically it is Lavandula angustifolia. That is often what people think of when thinking of cottage gardens. It has a soft mild fragrance that everybody really loves.

Then, of course, there are the French Lavenders, not really just from France. These are the Lavandula x intermedia. They are actually a cross between two different kinds of lavenders. As crosses, they are sterile. You can’t grow them from seed. But you can grow them from cuttings. It’s not that hard to do. In another article, we’ll discuss just how to go about it.

The most popular French Lavenders are the varieties “grosso” and “provencal”. That’s because they are very fragrant and make great oil.  Interestingly, “grosso” is actually the smaller of the two plants. It is named for the botanist who discovered it, not for its size.

Spanish Lavender “Bunny Ears”

The third most popular lavenders are the Spanish Lavender, Lavandula stoechas. These are the wonderful lavenders with the cute “bunny ears” on top of the flower spike. And the fat little flowers. They too are very fragrant, very very fragrant. Sometimes a little too camphoric for some people’s nose. They make wonderful, wonderful landscape plants because they are easy to shape or cut back without destroying the plant.

Given all these choices, what do you chose for your garden. Well, it depends on what you want to do with them. If you are interested in making pot pouri or oils, really extractions for oils, then your favorite would probably be the French lavenders. Those are the ones you see in the pictures of the huge fields in France. Acres and acres and acres. Of course, France has historically been the main lavender oil production country. They actually go through the fields with harvesters that pick up the lavender, cut it, throw it onto the harvester and into the distiller right there in the field. (It’s sort of like visiting our Midwestern farms, complete with harvesters, balers and the like.) Of course, lavender oil production is a major industry in France, providing the perfume industry with the base, and other products.

English Lavender – Lavandula-angustifolia

Now if you like the country garden look, particularly the English country garden, then picking one of the Lavandula angustifolia is probably your best choice. Your biggest problem with these is which to choose. Now you can actually propagate most of the English Lavenders from seed. And the seeds are currently available at most of our local garden centers and nurseries. It takes a little time for them to germinate and come to a point where you are ready to transplant them. Of course, it’s easier if you just pick up a little four-inch pot. You can easily plant this in your garden spot of choice. Some species don’t bloom the first season that they are planted. So you have to be patient and wait. But oh are you rewarded with wonderful fragrances and beautiful colors, depending on which species you choose.

The Spanish Lavenders are the ones I prefer to put in the garden as a shrub or landscape plant. You can trim them, they come back beautifully. You can hedge them, it doesn’t seem to bother them. The Spanish Lavenders are good choices for lavenders you want to have grow bountifully and splendidly. They often bloom several times during the season, especially in our climate here.

The next big choices are what colors?  You see lavenders don’t just come in lavender.  You can find varieties in pinks and blues, and white. And even a lavender that is green, Lavender Verdis. So now you just have to decide. If you are like me, you’ll want them all. So find those nooks and crannies in your garden to tuck in a little English Lavender. Then find a great place in your flower bed for a French Lavender–be sure to give it room. For the final touch, hedge your path or fence with a Spanish Lavender. Then relax and enjoy the fragrance, the blooms, and the bees and butterflies they bring.

Lynn’s Lavender – Organic, handcrafted lavender products, made in Sebastopol, CA

Lynn Rossman is the owner of Lynn’s Lavender, a certified organic lavender farm at Tanuda Ridge Vineyard.  You can visit her Garden and Gift Shop, one mile from Occidental at Graton and Tanuda Road.  She’s open Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11-4 from spring through fall.  

Lynn’s Lavender At Tanuda Ridge Vineyard
Sebastopol, CA 95472

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