Lavender is a fabulous evergreen shrub and every garden should have some. It’s wonderfully colourful, with its silvery or grey-green, scented foliage and its spikes of colourful, fragrant flowers produced throughout the summer, from July to September. The flowers are also great for attracting all types of wildlife - especially bees and butterflies.
Lavender is very versatile too. The taller varieties can be used as formal hedging plants, and the dwarfer, more compact varieties can be used as short hedging or edging around beds and borders. And of course, lavender grows very well in containers.
Types of lavender to grow
Most of the lavender we grow in our gardens are varieties of the English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia. This species can easily grow up to 1.5m (5ft) high and is a good choice for hedges. The lower growing, more compact varieties, like Munstead and Hidcote are the best choices for dwarf hedges and bed edging.
Although most varieties produce flowers that range from blue to purple, there are also white-flowered varieties, such as Alba, and those with pink flowers, Rosea.
French lavenders, Lavandula stoechas and Lavandula viridis, produce different flowers with showy bracts above the flowers, which leads to their sometimes used common name of ‘bunny ears’. These lavenders aren’t as hardy as English lavenders and will need a very warm position, excellent soil drainage and may even need winter protection in severe weather.
Lavender is easy to grow and look after. It needs a well-drained soil and a sunny position. The sunnier the site, the stronger the fragrance from both the foliage and the flowers.
Lavender is very drought tolerant, but like all other drought-tolerant plants needs watering until established. Avoid feeding with high-nitrogen fertilisers, which encourages soft growth, so use high potash ones instead, which encourage flowering and strong growth. Miracle-Gro Rose & Shrub Plant Food is a good choice.
Plants can tend to become leggy in time, so it is important to prune them annually to keep them bushy and full of flowers. It’s also a good idea to prune newly planted lavender plants to encourage bushy growth.
Pruning lavender can be confusing, especially as there is lots of differing advice available!
For best results on established plants of English lavender, remove the faded flower stalks and about 2.5cm (1in) of the current year’s growth after flowering. You can also prune in April if you want to tidy up plants and encourage bushiness - you should do this using shears, rather than secateurs.
The less hardy French lavender is best pruned in mid-spring or it can be pruned after the first flush of flowers.
Beware: lavender does not shoot readily from old wood, so never prune old, brown, leafless stems - otherwise the plant will die. Old, neglected plants are best replaced. Annual pruning should help prevent this happening.