I have always loved lavender and given its future potential use in our garden, I thought it would be useful to research this lovely plant for my feature plant post for February. Every Winter, the steep agapanthus bank between our top terrace and the main part of the garden gets badly frost-damaged, to the extent that photography of the Spring garden with the house in the background is severely compromised due to the dead brown patches, prompting thoughts about other suitable plants, which could withstand the frost and better utilise the terraced beds. In the photo below, the frost-prone area is on the bank, directly in front of the verandah with smaller recovering bulbs, couch grass and weeds. A friend suggested lavenders as they have mild frost-tolerance, a long flowering period (mid-Spring through to Autumn), a beautiful scent and multiple uses, as well as their colour being very complementary to the soft mauve exterior colour of our house.History and General Notes
Lavenders belong to the Lamiaceae (Labiatae) family, which also includes mints (Mentha) and sages (Salvia), as seen in the photo of the bouquet below. The genus Lavandula has 28 species and many subspecies, hybrids and cultivars, divided into five main groups: Stoechas; Spica; Pterostoechas; Chaetostoechas; and Subnuda. For the purposes of this post, I will be concentrating on the lavenders belonging to the first three groups, as they represent the majority of plants in cultivation and the home garden.Lavenders have a widespread distribution from the Mediterranean region (France, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal) to the Middle East; Western Asia; India; tropical Northern Africa and the Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands.They also have a long history of use since Ancient Greek and Roman times, when it was used for its cleansing and medicinal properties. In fact, the name Lavender is derived from the Latin word ‘lavare’, which means ‘to wash’. The Ancient Romans perfumed their baths with the oil of Lavandula spica (photo above), while the Ancient Greeks used lavender more for its medicinal qualities. Ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides described Lavandula stoechas (photo below) as a laxative and stimulant in his Materia Medica 60 AD, stating that it grew near Gaul on the islands of Stoechas, now known as Îles de Hyères.The expectorant and antispasmodic properties of the flowers were also used in the 6th century Byzantine Empire, as well as by later Arabs, who also used them in a skin toner, a cheek rouge and a perfumed hair powder. It was introduced into France by Charlemagne in 800 AD and was grown extensively in medieval monastery gardens for its medicinal properties, scent and use in the kitchen. Sticadore (Lavandula stoechas) was one of the ingredients, along with rosemary, wormwood, rue, sage and mint, in the Four Thieves Vinegar, used to combat the plague. Lavendar was also very popular in Tudor and Elizabethan times from 1485 to 1603. English Knot Gardens were defined by lavender hedges and Elizabeth I is said to have always had a bowl of lavender conserve on the table. During the 18th Century, Oil of Spic (or Aspic, made from Lavandula latifolia, a member of the Spica group) was used in quick drying varnishes and to dilute paint colours used in porcelain painting. The oil was distilled in Southern France, especially Provence, and Spain. See: http://www.sca3p.com/en/cooperative-essential-oils-provence/production-history-perfume-plants. Lavender sellers were a common sight in the streets of 18th Century London.It was imported into Australia during the 19th Century. In Britain, its cultivation was markedly increased, along with other herbs, during the First World War for its medicinal properties. Today, it is still widely grown for its oil, its scent and its use as a valuable hedging and border plant in the garden.General Description
Lavender is an aromatic shrubby perennial with erect or spreading branches and variable size, leaves and flowering spikes, according to the particular type, as well as its location, soil type, weather conditions and climate. Generally, the width of the plant is 1 to 1.5 times the height of the plant. For ease of description, it is worth consulting the photo below from page 17 of The Essential Lavender: Growing Lavender in Australia by Virginia McNaughton 1996.Leaves: Have revolute (curled back) margins and are arranged in opposite pairs along the branches. They vary in shape from linear-oblong or spatulate to oblong lanceolate and their margins are simple and entire or dentate, pinnate or bipinnate. The leaves below have dentate, revolute margins.Inflorescences: Flower spikes are terminal, at the end of short or long peduncles (flowering stems) and are composed of individual flowers, arranged in a whorled fashion along the stem. The terminal flowers open last. They have bracts (modified leaf at the base of the flowers) and/ or bracteoles (small bract borne above the bract and below the calyx (outer petals), according to the type. The scent also varies from the sweet true lavender fragrance of Lavandula angustifolia to the more camphoraceous scent of the Stoechas group (especially L. viridis) and Lavandula latifolia.
Types of Lavenders
Rather than get bogged down in all the botanical anatomical differences, I will be giving a very basic account of the obvious visual differences, used in identification. It is also well worth consulting: http://www.lyndochlavenderfarm.com.au/plants.html or www.bendigobotanicgardens.com.au/files/…/Lavender_species_descriptions.pdf.
Stoechas Group (Rabbit’s Ears)
Large petal-like sterile bracts (see photo below) on the top of the spike (rabbit’s ears); no bracteoles; and fertle bracts on the rest of the spike. They flower most of the year with short intermittent breaks (eg Christmas) and prefer warmer areas. They are more frost-tender than the Spica group (though can still survive mild frosts), but more tolerant of humidity, though no lavender grows well in areas of high humidity or heavy rain. They are also very tolerant of soil type and have actually been declared a noxious weed in Tasmania and rural Victoria.Species: L. stoechas (Italian and Spanish); L. dentata (French); and L. viridis (Green).
Has a number of subspecies:
Lavandula stoechas ssp stoechas: Italian; Mediterranean and North Africa; Dark violet, though there is a white form. 70cm bush to 1m tall in flower. Short peduncles (1-3 cm) and grey green leaves. Hardy and withstands mild frosts.
Lavandula stoechas ssp pedunculata: Spanish/ Butterfly; Portugal and Spain, North Africa, South Balkans and Asia Minor; Longer greener leaves, sterile bracts and peduncles (10-20 cm); 60 cm sprawling bush to 90 cm in flower; Rounder reddish-violet spikes; Less hardy and needs frost protection.
Other less common subspecies include: L. stoechas ssp cariensis; L. stoechas ssp sampaiana; and L. stoechas ssp luisieri.There are also a large number of Stoechas cultivars, resulting from crosses between the subspecies, especially L. stoechas ssp pedunculata (Sugarberry Ruffles; Princess and Sensation). I am only describing the varieties in my garden, with a nod to future desires or more famous varieties.
They include, in order of height:
Sugarberry Ruffles 50-70 cm; Soft pink sterile bracts.Princess: 70 cm; Pink sterile bracts; Flowers late Winter to early Summer. Avonview: 80 cm tall and long peduncles with large purple sterile bracts; Floral arrangements. Sensation (Senblu): 1 m; Blue sterile bracts;Other cultivars that I would love to get in the future include: Pastel Dreams (60-80 cm; Lilac pink); Helmsdale (80 cm; Burgundy purple); Marshwood (80cm-1m; Reddish-violet); and Pippa (1m; Electric dark blue).
Lavandula dentata (French Lavender)
Also known as Toothed Lavender, due to the dentate margins of the grey-green leaves. This large shrub, 1 to 1.5 metres tall, hails from France, Spain, Italy and Greece; the Madeira, Canary and Cape Verde Islands; Arabia, Algeria and Abyssinia.
It has long peduncles and 2.5 to 5 cm lavender-purple flowering spikes for most of the year. L. dentata ssp candicans has greyer soft hairy leaves and darker flower spikes. Cultivars include: Ploughman Blue; Allwood; and Monet.
It prefers warmer climates and is not frost hardy, requiring protection in cooler areas. The plant makes a good hedge or topiary specimen and the flowers are used in floral arrangements (tussie-mussies), wreaths and pot pourri.
Lavandula viridis (Green Lavender)
Hailing from South-West Spain, Southern Portugal and Madeira, this 1 metre tall bush has green sticky foliage and stems, covered in dense short green hairs; greenish-cream sterile bracts and has the strongest camphoraceous fragrance of the Stoechas group. While it survives mild frosts, I probably won’t be racing out to buy this one!!!Spica Group (English Lavenders and Lavandins)
Have no sterile bracts at the top of the flowering spike, entire hairy grey lanceolate/ oblong or linear leaves and a sweet lavender fragrance. They prefer limestone areas; light well-drained soil and warm rocky slopes and dislike areas of high humidity, so are difficult to grow in Queensland. However, they grow well here! See the photo above!
Species: L. angustifolia; L. latifolia; and L. lanata
Lavandula angustifolia ( syn. L. vera; L. spica and L. officinalis) True Lavender
Lavandula angustifolia ssp angustifolia: Western Mediterranean; 60 cm to 80cm in flower; fragrant flower spikes 3 to 7 cm long; One of earliest lavenders to flower (late November in Australia); Makes a small to medium hedge. Good for lavender bags; toiletries; pot pourri; culinary recipes and floral decorations; and lavender oil, though the lavandins yield more flowers.
Lavandula angustifolia ssp pyrenaica: Pyrenees and Northern Spain; Rare in Australia; Bracts very wide and as long as calyces (outer petals): 6-7 mm long; and hair confined to veins.
Have small to medium single unbranched peduncles and flowering spikes from lavender and violet to pink and white simultaneously or 2 to 3 weeks later than L. angustifolia. They include:
Lavender/ Violet: Munstead (45-60 cm dwarf, so good for knot gardens); Twickel Purple (60-90 cm);
Dark Violet: Hidcote (70 cm); Nana Atropurpurea (40-60 cm); Blue Mountain (60 cm, greyer foliage);
Pink: Rosea (40 -60 cm; very green foliage; early flowering; mauve pink);
White: Alba (40-60 cm; grey green linear leaves; sweet scent.
Lavandula latifolia (L. spica) Spike Lavender
Western Mediterranean and Portugal; Rare in nurseries; 50 cm high bush, whose broad oblong to lanceolate leaves are a more greyish-green and have a denser coverage of hairs than L. angustifolia. Flower spikes have long slender peduncles, up to 45 cm long or more, which frequently branch into three and have a camphoraceous smell . It was used to produce Oil of Aspic. They flower up to 3 months later than L. angustifolia (February in Australia) and can be difficult to grow and have a shorter lifespan here, so it is wise to keep some young stock in reserve. They are not frost hardy and hate cold poorly-drained soil. They can get woody at the base and along the stems.Lavandula x intermedia cultivars (Lavandins)
A cross between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia, these 1 metre tall shrubs flower 3 to 4 weeks later than L. angustifolia and have broader leaves and large flower spikes with a paler colour and a more camphoraceous smell. They are sterile, so must be propagated from cuttings and are used for cut flowers and the commercial production of lavender oil. They include:
Lavender/ Violet/ Purple:
Grosso (Masses of violet blooms late December to Autumn; Leading world producer of Lavender oil);
Seal (80 cm-1m ; Over 1000 spikes in one season and retain scent well when dried; Lavender bags);
Super (Over 1m and similar to Seal, but different shape and size; One of first lavandins to flower, continuously blooming over long period and one of the sweetest scents of all lavandins)
Alba (60-70 cm tall with 30 cm long peduncles; white corollas with grey-green calyces; sweet scent. This is the white lavender most commonly sold in nurseries.)
Grey Hedge (1m silver hedge);
Old English (over 1m and similar spikes to Seal)Intersectional Crosses:
Lavandula x allardii Mitcham Lavender : A cross between L. dentata and L. latifolia, this hybrid is over 1 metre tall and wide, has grey semi-toothed leaves and long flower spikes like Spica lavenders on long peduncles with a scent, the blend of lavender and camphoraceous.
The flowers stems can be dried for floral arrangements, but tend to droop. I suspect the lavender in the two photos above and the three photos below, grown from a cutting, could be Mitcham Lavender as it has leaves with dentate margins like L. dentata, but a flower spike on a very long branched peduncle like L. latifolia. The plant is also similar to the latter with its tendency to woody stems as the plants age.
Lavandula x heterophylla: Another cross between L. latifolia and L. dentata, this plant is similar to Spica group lavenders, being up to 1 metre tall with branched stems. It also has a sweet camphoraceous scent .Lavandula lanata Woolly Lavender
Native to the mountains of Southern Spain, this shrub, 1 metre high and wide, has 1.2 cm wide and 3-5 cm long, grey tomentose (woolly hairs) leaves with a soft flannel feel and 10 cm long narrow flowering spikes on long peduncles in late December. The individual flowers open gradually, providing a splash of purple along the spike and have a slight camphoraceous scent. These lavenders like dry chalky soils and sheltered positions and have a deep root system, so hate being moved. They are frost-tolerant as might be expected!
This group hails from North Africa and Mediterranean regions and has the largest number of species, three of which are available in Australia. Slightly woody at the base, they have multi-branched stems and fine feathery pinnate or bipinnate leaves and wing-like (ptero-) corollas when viewed from the side. All the bracts are fertile and there are no sterile bracts at the top of the spike. There are also no bracteoles and the flowers do not have the classic lavender fragrance. They are not very hardy and best grown against the house or a warm brick wall, protected from frost, as in our old garden in Geelong (photo below), where they thrived with the French Lavender.
Species available in Australia include: L. multifida; L. canariensis; and L. pinnata.Cultivation and Harvesting
So easy to grow, lavender really only has two requirements:
: Well-drained Soil
While they prefer lighter soils and thrive in a loamy gritty mix, they can grow in most soil types. English lavenders like alkaline soil with a pH of 6-8, while Stoechas lavenders are very tolerant and can even grow in slightly acidic soil. Lavenders hate poorly-drained heavy clay soils, so add compost or humus to the soil; dig in underwater drainage pipes or grow in rock gardens or on hillsides, where the water can run off. So, the steep bank should be perfect for them! They do not need fertilising, though a foliar spray of nitrogen in the Spring will increase the growth, the number of flowers and the stem length. Well-rotted compost will enrich the soil and act as a mulch to suppress weeds.: Full Sun for three quarters of the day at least. Stoechas and Pterostoechas lavenders prefer warmer climates and shelter from frosts, though the former can survive mild frosts and the occasional severe one. English lavenders like cool winters and warm sunny Summers. They are reasonably hardy and can withstand frost, though a late frost can damage the flower buds.Lavenders don’t like : Severe frosts; over-watering; drought; wind or humidity, which can cause root rot. There are few pests, except for spittle bug (hose, spray or pick off) and the odd assault by caterpillars or rabbits. Diseases include the Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV), spread by aphids and causing yellowing of the leaves and twisting of young Spring growth; Lavender Leafspot; Bacterial Blast; and Shab, an overseas fungal disease, fortunately not found in Australia. Here is our garden in the depths of Winter (photo 1) Unfortunately, the frost killed off our French Lavenders (photo 2)!Spacing: Lavandins should be planted 1 metre apart (unless used for a hedge, in which case plants can be 50-70 cm apart), while L. angustifolia cultivars can be planted 30-70 cm apart. Make sure that enough room is available for the mature plant. While these lavenders marked the vertical axis of the Soho Bed, they really were much too large and I think the Soho Bed looks better in the second photo without these lavender plants.Pruning: Depends on the type of lavender and should be done to remove dead wood and encourage young growth from the base. These plants were very undisciplined (photo 1) and the Soho Bed looked so much better after a haircut (photo 2)! English lavenders should be trimmed hard after flowering and well before Winter to allow the new growth to harden. Once the stems become too woody and bare, the plant should be replaced. Unfortunately, none of the Mitcham Lavenders below survived the Winter. Normally, Mitcham lavender can be pruned to 15 cm from the ground, so I don’t think I pruned them too hard. Maybe, their new growth did not have time to harden before the cool weather set in or the plants had just become too old and woody! Fortunately, I had taken cuttings on pruning and was able to replace the dead plants, but I will keep them well-trimmed this time to a more appropriate size! Stoechas lavenders, which produce flowers more frequently, can be pruned during the Summer as well and can be pruned quite hard, due to their fast growth in Summer. I definitely have to deadhead this Lavender bush!Propagation: Usually done from cuttings to produce a plant, which is true to type, except for Pterostoechas, which is difficult to propagate from cuttings and is true from seed; and L. latifolia and L. lanata, which also reproduce true from seed, so long as the plants are kept separate from other lavenders. Below is a photo of one of my Mitcham lavender cuttings, which has developed into a new plant.
Cuttings, 5 to 10 cm long, can be made in Spring (tip cuttings) and Autumn (tip cuttings or heel cuttings of semi-hardwood growth), dipped in hormone rooting powder or honey, and inserted into a pot with a mixture of soil and sand; soil and perlite; pure perlite; or coarse river sand; and kept damp, but not wet, until established. They can be kept in cold frames or with bottom heat and misting, then transplanted into a larger pot or the garden, once the roots have reached the bottom of the pot.
Harvesting and Drying:
Harvest mid-morning on a dry sunny day after the dew has evaporated and watch out for bees!
Cut the heads when only the first two flowers on the spike have opened and strip off the leaves.
Hang flower spikes upside-down in bunches or dry on muslin trays in a dark room with good air circulation. They are dry when the stem breaks cleanly. A dehydrator/ microwave can be used too.Store in opaque containers in cupboards in a dry environment and avoid light or moisture. Use within the year before the colour fades and scent goes.
English Lavenders and French Lavender (L. dentata and subspecies) dry well, but the other Stoechas lavenders are more difficult to dry, because of the rabbit’s ears, though they do press well.
Uses of Lavender:
Garden Plant : Hedging, Knot Gardens and Topiary
: Paths, enclosures, knot gardens, outlining ornaments; statues; sundials and birdbaths.: Space plants half the width of the mature plant apart and keep regularly pruned, so the new growth is produced from the base. Trim at least twice a year and well before the Winter cold sets in. Both photos above and below were taken at Lavandula, Hepburn Springs, in Victoria.: French lavender makes a good topiary specimen, while good varieties for hedging include:
Lavandula angustifolia: Munstead or Blue Mountain (small to medium hedge or knot gardens); Twickel Purple (medium to large hedge); or a combination of Nana Atropurpurea; Rosea; and/or Alba;
Lavandins: Impress Purple or Grosso for a medium hedge; Grey Hedge for a hedge higher than 1 m.
Stoechas group: Italian lavender (low hedge); French Lavender (1.5 m hedge warm areas); and L. viridis.
Medicinal Properties of Lavender Essential Oil
Useful for the treatment of a wide range of conditions:
Skin conditions: Burns, bruises, wounds and leg ulcers; eczema, dermatitis and nappy rash; boils and herpes; stretchmarks; bee and wasp stings; fungal infections; acne; dry skin; and sunburn. It can be used as an insect repellent (a few drops added to olive or safflower oil) and a skin toner.
Muscle, joint and back pain : 1 part lavender oil to 6 parts massage oil for a relaxation massage.
Migraines and Headaches.
Hair: When added to shampoo, it can reduce dandruff, and in the past has been used to eliminate head lice. It has also been used to treat ear ache.
Sore throats, stubborn coughs and mouth infections: Gargle with lavender oil /honey in boiled water.
Lavender Oil is produced by steam distillation (photo below was taken at Balingup Lavender Farm, Western Australia).
Lavender Water: 4 tbsp lavender oil to 2 litres warm water: Good antiseptic cleanser;
Lavender can also be used in furniture oil and polish; in lavender bags (photo below) to protect clothes and linen from insects and moths; and can be burnt or simmered in water to induce relaxation.Culinary
Lavender vinegar can be used in salad dressings, for cleaning, to reduce bruising and as a hair rinse.
Lavender sugar can be used to flavour desserts, biscuits and cake icing;
Lavender tisane (L. angustifolia ssp angustifolia) to relieve extreme fatigue and physical exhaustion. It obviously had an uplifting effect on my husband at the Bella Lavender Estate, South Australia.Fragrance: Lavender bags, fans and bottles; scented writing paper and ink; pressed flowers; pot-pourri mixes; sleep pillows; soap and toiletries; incense and candles; tussie-mussies, wreaths and floral arrangements.Lavender has also been used in healing and purifying rituals; deterring evil spirits (Tuscany); in love potions and spells. Lavender is a symbol of love, affection and acknowledgement; cleanliness, purity and chastity; longevity and perseverance; protection; and peace. My mum embroidered this beautiful bag below for a birthday gift.
Lavender Places to visit in Australia:
Bridestowe, Tasmania: https://bridestowelavender.com.au ;
Lavandula, Hepburn Springs, Vic: https://www.lavandula.com.au/ (three photos below);
Yuulong Lavender Estate, Vic: http://www.yuulonglavender.com.au/ . Currently closed, but reopening soon in a new location;
Lavender Farm, ‘Pottique’, Kingaroy, Qld: https://lavenderfarm.net.au/;
Nannup Lavender Farm, WA: https://nannuplavenderfarm.com/;
Lavender Valley Farm, Yetna, WA: http://lavendervalleyfarm.com.au,
and in the three photos below: Balingup Lavender Farm, WA: http://www.lavenderbalingup.com.au/;
And obviously, our garden here in Candelo, once I have decided on which varieties to grow and we have established our new plantings on the bank! There are three terraces, so I will probably grow Bearded Iris at the top and bottom, with taller lavenders in the middle terrace; shorter pinks, whites and purple lavenders on the top terrace; and medium lavenders in the bottom terrace. Ross has started to clear two paths between the terraces. Placement is dictated by the frosty areas on the right looking up at the house from the garden, so English lavenders and Lavandins will be in these areas, while the Stoechas group will be further to the left, where there is more shelter and protection from the frost. Here is a view from the top lawn, showing the area damaged by frost. I will finish with a sea of lavender from our visit to Lavandula, Hepburn Springs.Next week, I will be introducing you to Bithry Inlet, one of our favourite spots to visit in Summer!