"I didn’t know there were that many kinds of lavender," is a comment
I hear practically every day. Just how many varieties of the fragrant herb there are is an open question, but I put my guess at about 500. That figure includes
both hardy and tender varieties as well as a number that are "half-hardy" in our area.
The hardiest species is L. angustifolia which includes the old standbys—‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’-- as well as new varieties such as ‘Madeline Marie’
and ‘Rebecca Kay.’ We have several hundred Hidcotes in the ground and they make it through the winter with no problems. The same is true of the Madeline Maries, the Munsteads
and the Rebecca Kays.
While the angustifolias are generally quite hardy, there are some that are not quite up to par. For example, we planted nearly 200 ‘Blue River’ in
2004. Only about half of them made it through the first winter. This past winter we lost about ten percent of the remainder.
Varieties of the species L. x intermedia (also called lavindins) include ‘ Provence’ and ‘Grosso,’ and are usually hardy in Adams County. However,
they require careful tending during their first year including regular watering. (Although lavender can survive on half of our annual rainfall, it does need to be watered
about once a week during the first summer.) With its 16-18 inch flower stems and dark purple blossoms, ‘Grosso’ is considered by many to be the ideal lavender – well worth
the effort to get it established in the garden.
Among the "half-hardy" varieties are three that are quite striking—‘Anna Louise,’ ‘Otto Quast,’ and ‘Goodwyn Creek Grey.’ ‘Anna Louise’ has a deep
purple blossom and light grey foliage. The effect of this contrast is quite stunning. Alas, the grey foliage is the result of thousands of small hairs that, in addition to
giving the plant color, also tend to hold water which encourages fungus and mildew growth during our hot, humid summer months; this can severely weaken the plant and cause
winter die-off. If you decide to grow ‘Anna Louise,’ be sure to give it full sun as well as adequate spacing to allow good air circulation.
‘Otto Quast’ is an L. stoechas variety and is often referred to as Spanish lavender. It is half-hardy when planted in a protected area such as the
south side of the house. Some nurseries sell ‘Goodwyn Creek Grey’ as a hardy cultivar. I have had no luck in leaving it out over the winter months although I have not tried
it in a protected area.
Indoors, in a sunny window, ‘Goodwyn Creek Grey’ will bloom all winter long. The same is true of ‘Christiana’ (L. Christiana) and ‘Canary Islands’ (L.
Canariensis). Each has fern-like leaves and does well in a patio planter in summer. Neither will survive a frost. Interestingly, while rabbits do not bother either the
angustifolias or the intermedias, they gobbled up this year’s (and, on reflection, last year’s) garden plantings of ‘Christiana’ and ‘Canary Islands.’
For more information on lavender, try Virginia McNaughtin’s book, Lavender, the Grower’s Guide. This well-written volume covers practically everything
of importance with regard to lavender and is lavishly illustrated with photos. The definitive work on lavender is The Genus Lavandula by Tim Upson and Susyn Andrews.
Published three years ago, this is a well-researched work by two of the world’s foremost experts in the field.
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articles by Tom Wajda