An evergreen shrub with currently 47 species and 450 varieties, what was once the humble staple of cottage gardens is an often an overlooked shrub in modern gardens today.
Slow to establish and not as long-lived as most woody shrubs, they are still worth the effort of planting as they are cheap, easily replaced and still live a good 10 years in favourable conditions.
Evidence of lavender use goes back over 2,500 years and yet botanists have been unable to pinpoint its exact origins. The Ancient Egyptians used lavender in their mumification processes and after popping up throughout the Arabian lands, in around 600BC it was recorded in what is now the Hyères Islands off France. From there lavender spread throughout Spain, Italy, France and eventually on to England.
All parts of the plant contain the distinctive aromatic oil which lavender is known for. In a garden setting, lavender will emit its fragrance upon a breeze, a light touch or after rain, enveloping you in a sense of cleansing calm. My general gardening advice is plant lavender well to begin with and then don’t look at it, don’t even talk to it, just leave it alone! Let’s look at the different kinds of lavender and pick one that’s right for you.
There are many lavenders but in the minds of most gardeners, there are three main types: English, Spanish and French. English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is also known as ‘True Lavender’ and may have the botanical reference (L. officinalis) but it is one and the same. This is the lavender used mostly in essential oil production. Spanish Lavender (L. stoechas) is sometimes referred to as Italian Lavender. Due to its fresher aroma, it is popular in soaps, room sprays and medicinal products. French Lavender (L. dentata) is a steady bloomer and a pretty garden plant, but it is not the lavender that produces the famed ‘Lavandin Oil’ throughout the Provence region of France. That honour goes to ‘Lavandin’ (L. intermedia ‘Provence’), a hybrid of English Lavender and Spike Lavender (L. latifolia).
All these plants hate to get their feet wet, so a well-draining soil and position is paramount. Growing in a high area of the garden and in a mound of soil, (at least 40cm in height and 60cm in width for each plant), will make all the difference and they need sun, lots of sun. Although lavender can grow in a tiny bit of shade, they will be healthier and bloom more prolifically in full sun.
In a garden with healthy, well composted soil, lavender won’t need feeding but if you are growing because you want a lush shrub then by all means give it a boost with a general all-rounder fertiliser but, be warned, as over feeding can lead to fungal issues. If you do need to water, then water the soil in the early morning and never the plant as humidity caused by watering can kill your lavender.
Growing in pots is also an option but the same rules apply and make extra sure that your pots and soil are super well-draining. They will need feeding a few times a year due to the lightness of soil required so use a slow-release balanced fertiliser.
Most lavenders bloom from six to eight weeks each year and if you are growing for use in floristry or to use in botanical products, harvest your lavender on a sunny day before noon and cut the stem just below the start of foliage. To dry, hang in bunches upside down in a cool dark place with very good air circulation.
When pruning you can go rather hard for most types after they have finished blooming as this will encourage good growth for the following season but never cut the older main stems of the plant.
Try These Lavenders
The Princess Lavender (L. hybrid) is a compact grower bred for Aussie conditions and has an early and long flowering period. It is also drought tolerant. Hot pink bracts are topped with dark pink flowers which have a lovely fragrance long with very aromatic grey foliage. Ruffles Collection (L. pedunculata) flowers form as large fluffy ruffles high above the bracts. There are many types and colours including pinks and purples from dark to light. A little more tolerant of humid conditions and they are repeat bloomers with a compact growing habit that can be encouraged into a low hedge. Fairy Wings (L. pedunculata) have even larger flower petals that are ribbon-like in appearance. Colours range from a blushed-white through to purples. This plant has proved to be more tolerant of cold and grows well in containers as well as the garden.
GARDENING BOOK REVIEW: Garden Like a Nonno
The Italian Art of Growing Your Own Food by Jaclyn Crupi
Affirm, 2021 ISBN: 9781922419521
Author Jaclyn Crupi shares with the reader all she has learned about the joyful, no-waste and heartily Italian way of gardening no matter how or where you garden. Nonnos (Italian Grandfathers) are known for their gardening expertise, wisdom, and their harvest recipes. You will find a big dose of ‘La dolce vita’ to go with all that within the pages of ‘Garden Like a Nonno’. There are lots of good solid gardening advice pieces throughout the book along with recipes for homemade garden care products, such as ‘Nonno’s White Oil’ for pest control. Italian cooking? Naturally! There are lots of tips and recipes for Italian garden feasting. What I particularly like is the down to earth connection with Italian culture that’s easy to be inspired by in the way it is presented. It is a hardcover book and would make another good gift at this time of the year. Fun, bright and helpful.
GARDENING GUIDE FOR COAST GARDENERS THIS WEEK
Just a few things you could plant this week include any and just about all culinary herbs, Asian greens, asparagus, globe and globe artichoke, beans, beetroot, broccoli, cabbages, cape gooseberry, capsicum, carrot, celeriac, celery, chicory, chilli, choko, cucumber, eggplant, fennel, ginger, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, marrow, mustard greens, okra, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, radish, rocket, salsify, silverbeet, spring onion, sweetcorn, squash, sweet potato, taro, tomato, turnip, warrigal greens, sunflower, aster, bedding begonia, calendula, California poppy, carnation, celosia, chrysanthemum, coleus, cosmos, dahlia, dianthus, everlasting daisy, gaillardia, gazania, gerbera, honesty, inpatients, kangaroo paw, marigold, nasturtium, phlox, portulaca, salvia, snapdragon, waratah, zinnia.
YOU AND YOUR GARDEN: Caroline & Joe
A Garden for Koalas in Palmdale
Most gardeners will usually plant something native to blend in and to offer shelter or food for the local birds and bees, but I met a couple who have taken this concept a huge leap forward by turning over much of their Palmdale property to the local koala population.
Joe was inspired by an article in Central Coast Newspapers four years ago in which local MP, Lucy Wicks, and Australian Reptile Park General Manager, Tim Faulkner, appealed to the public to plant suitable trees for koalas on their properties. Since then, Joe approached Community Environment Network and Land for Wildlife to gain help in identifying naturally-established plants and trees already on his property and to help him know what to purchase to help the koalas. Caroline and Joe have a gorgeous, warm country home hugged by cottage-style gardens that are surrounded by a firebreak of lawn. This gives way to the natural bush which is now boosted with more koala-welcoming plants and trees that stretches up the valley in all directions. To add to this dedication for our natural botanical wonders is an Australian Native Food and Medicinal Garden that includes the very interesting ‘Gumbi Gumbi’ (Pittosporum angustifolium). This traditional plant has been used by many Indigenous people as their primary medicine for thousands of years and is currently gaining the interest of cancer researchers.
Joe and Caroline have also entered their gardens into local gardening competitions and won many, but no wonder. The work that has been done with a keen focus on regenerative practices, learning to live in harmony with the land and to physically help our future is a credit to them. Although the land is heading towards sustainability with most plants well established, a pump to move water, when needed, to the higher areas of the land would be helpful and is on Joe’s wish list to keep this Palmdale oasis growing for the local koalas.
I am on the road again chatting with people for CC Newspapers & Coast FM. All levels of skill, all types of gardens. I’m really interested in groups and even businesses who are doing interesting plant things as well as households. Email me: email@example.com and let’s have a chat!
Next Week: Gardening with La Niña
Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 – 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM963. She is also co-host of @MostlyAboutPlants a weekly botanical history & gardening podcast with Vicki White.
Send your gardening questions, events, and news to: firstname.lastname@example.org