Those of you who live other than in the UK must forgive this one, but I can only write based on my local experience. This post is about what types of lavender you are likely to come across in the UK and some of their pros and cons for our UK climate.
The first one to start with of course is the favourite “English” lavender, as we call it. Tough, fragrant, evergreen, relatively easy to look after – this is the cottage-garden lavender, the one associated with Grandma and the one with all those amazing aromatherapy and healing properties.
When I do my talks in the Jersey Lavender distillery I find that at this point, when I mention lavender botany, I apologise to French visitors. Why? Because I feel that at some point in the murkiness of lavender history we Brits did a rather cheeky thing and basically hijacked a perfectly good Mediterranean plant, more at home in Southern France, and one with a perfectly good name – Lavande – and started calling it “English lavender”. From a lavender marketing perspective this was rather clever, as it created the sense that English lavender is somehow different and special from that grown in France. The truth is that English Lavender IS the same as that grown in the south of France – botanically both are Lavandula angustifolia.
In the average UK garden centre you will definitely come across a variety of English lavender called Hidcote – the classic dark purple flowered lavender, but likely also Munstead, Rosea, Twickel Purple to name but a few of the hundred plus possible varieties. You may even come across Elizabeth – the variety bred by the bees and discovered here at Jersey Lavender by my Father (and named after my Mother). It’s a stunner and here on the farm is excellent for producing dried bunches and also the precious Jersey lavender oil that is used in our products and for aromatherapy.
As to pros & cons of English lavender? There are many more pros and the only con that I can think of is it’s shortish flowering season – generally the month of July. The pros are that it is a tough, evergreen plant, not susceptible to many diseases, perfect for those garden hose-pipe bans that we get occasionally and if looked after with some basic rules will give many years of fragrant enjoyment.
Moving on, another “type” of lavender that you may come across is Lavandin (short for Lavandula x intermedia). Strangely, given how fabulous the lavandins are, I’d expect to see more of them in UK gardens. However, you might come across “Lavender Dutch”, “Lavender Grosso” or Lavandin “Edelweiss” (a lovely white lavender), but really that’s it. Again there are virtually no cons – short flowering season – late July and into August, perhaps. As to the pros – it’s hardy (down to -15C), has a unique, strong fragrance, is larger than English lavender and is easy to cultivate and look after.
Now the lavender that is everywhere these days is the “French” lavender, Lavender stoechas (and just to confuse, I believe in Australia they call this Italian lavender and in the USA they call it Spanish lavender!!). French lavender is really an ornamental summer plant in the UK and popular varieties are Kew Red, Regal Splendour, Tiara, Pretty Polly (again from Jersey), Snowman and Papillon, amongst many others. I don’t deny that in mid-summer these lavenders look lovely but the garden centres are a little quiet about the hardiness of this plant. Having bought them as a full, leafy, pampered, multi-budded plant, flowering all summer long, IF the plant survives the winter – they are getting into dangerous territory below zero C – the following year they seem to revert to their more natural state, become woody and leggy and don’t flower nearly as much. So the pros/cons are that they look fabulous for one season, but that really they are not suited to our climate, and are far from easy to look after and keep looking good year after year.
Other lavenders that you might find, but are a bit more specialist, are lavender allardii, lavender dentata, and maybe even one of the pterostoechas lavenders such as christiana. Allardii is a hybrid lavender of uncertain parentage, but one parent is lavender dentata which give the leaves a slight wavey edge to them. It can be a pretty vigorous grower such that I’ve found it growing as a “standard” form, i.e. a 2 foot stem with a “pom-pom” of foliage and flowers on top. They look great initially, but personally I feel that lavender isn’t suited to be forced into such a shape and so they don’t work long term in the average UK garden.
Dentata itself, in a really sheltered, sunny spot can be a fabulous lavender. Here in Jersey ours have flowers on them all year round though many more plentifully in the summer. On mainland UK they are border-line survival in a cold, damp winter, but if you can grow it,you will not be disappointed. The “toothed” leaves are attractive, the scent is strong, and they are in flower right through the summer, such that it makes a fabulous and unusual display.
Finally, if you can find Lavandula pterostoechas x Christiana, and you have a conservatory, then my advice is, buy it! Coming originally from the Canary Islands, this plant really is not at all frost hardy – that being the con. But the pros far outweigh this. It really is a gorgeous plant, bulking up quickly in early summer, with beautiful and unusual trident-shaped flower heads on long, graceful stems. Cuttings are easy to take and you can clip the plant back hard if it gets a bit large. Once the nights start getting cold then you carefully dig it up and get it indoors where, on a minimum of water it should over-winter OK ready for the next year.