Pretty in pur­ple

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Leisure - HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

WITH the wet and chilly weather that much of the coun­try has suf­fered dur­ing the past few months, it may be dif­fi­cult to imag­ine fields of laven­der shim­mer­ing pur­ple in the sun­shine, their evoca­tive scent hang­ing in heavy sum­mer air. You’ll need to think about it soon, how­ever, if you han­ker af­ter laven­der to edge a parterre, en­cir­cle a rose gar­den or aug­ment a flower bor­der. You may want to plant laven­der by your back door for drap­ing wash­ing, a charm­ing im­age that harks back to Vic­to­rian gar­den­ing books.

Na­tive to Mediter­ranean re­gions, but also oc­cur­ring nat­u­rally in North Africa, the Mid­dle East and In­dia, laven­der loves the al­ka­line, well-drained lime­stone soils and the hot and dry cli­mate of the south of France. The pur­ple fields of laven­der that cover the hill­sides and plains of Provence at­tract hordes of tourists with their cam­eras in July. Fields are stripped in early Au­gust and oil presses in co-op­er­a­tives spring into ac­tion.

You’ll find laven­der will grow hap­pily in richer soils as long as air cir­cu­la­tion is ex­cel­lent and the plants are not ex­pected to cope with sum­mer hu­mid­ity. Frost and snow present no prob­lem, mak­ing laven­der a per­fect com­pan­ions for roses and irises. The soft greys and in­tense blues of laven­der weav­ing through a bor­der of flow­er­ing peren­ni­als, in the com­pany of clouds of scented pink roses, all edged with rib­bons of iris, is one of the ro­man­tic im­ages of high sum­mer.

The 40-odd species in the laven­der genus be­long to the mint fam­ily (Lami­aceae), have square stems, flower spikes and leaves rich in fra­grant oils; not sur­pris­ingly, some species can be­come a lit­tle ram­pant.

The most com­mon species, La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia — the eas­i­est to source and to grow, bear­ing misty, mid-blue spikes above grey fo­liage — is the source of most laven­der oil. Many of the most ex­cit­ing va­ri­eties have been cul­ti­vated from this species. The Amer­i­can gar­dener Lawrence John­ston found a deep pur­ple-flow­er­ing va­ri­ety in the hills be­hind his house, near Men­ton on the Cote d’Azur, and col­lected seed to cre­ate the much-loved va­ri­ety we now call ‘Hid­cote’. You can see it at Hid­cote Manor, his large gar­den in Glouces­ter­shire, these days beau­ti­fully cared for by Bri­tain’s Na­tional Trust. La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia ‘Egerton Blue’ is val­ued for its oil; the richly hued ‘Mun­stead’, ‘Twickel Pur­ple’ and ‘Hid­cote’ are favoured for dry­ing. The pink ‘Rosea’ and the pur­ple ‘Fol­gate’ are lat­er­flow­er­ing. For dry­ing, for use in sa­chets and pot pourri, pick the spikes be­fore they start to fade.

La­van­dula x in­ter­me­dia ‘Seal’, a tall­grow­ing va­ri­ety of the hy­brid be­tween the an­gus­ti­fo­lia and lat­i­fo­lia species, is also used for dry­ing. The smaller L. x in­ter­me­dia ‘Miss Don­ning­ton’ is pop­u­lar for edg­ing flower borders or herb gar­dens; you might em­ploy it to cre­ate a maze or a parterre. But you don’t have to clip your laven­der into straight-topped edges: some gar­den­ers pre­fer wave hedges of laven­der, so that if one plant dies the gap left is not too ob­vi­ous.

The early-sea­son flow­er­ing L. stoechas, which is de­scribed in Ro­man texts, is also grown for its oil, used in room fresh­en­ers and in­sec­ti­cides, al­though it has be­come a nui­sance in some parts of Aus­tralia, de­clared a nox­ious weed in some states. The va­ri­eties ‘Win­ter Lace’, a soft to deep blue, and ‘Vi­o­let Lace’, with masses of pur­ple flow­ers, are safer, more com­pact va­ri­eties. And plant La­van­dula x in­ter­me­dia ‘Yu­u­long’ and ‘Grosso,’ along with L. al­lardii and L. den­tata var. can­di­cans, to cut for ar­range­ments of fresh laven­der. WEall ad­mire our botan­i­cal artists, sev­eral of whom are world ac­claimed, with their work col­lected in gal­leries and flo­ri­legiums.There’s still time to catch The Eter­nal Or­der in Na­ture: The Science of Botan­i­cal Il­lus­tra­tion, an ex­hi­bi­tion that runs un­til Au­gust 7 at Do­main House Gallery, Dal­las Brooks Drive, South Yarra, in Mel­bourne’s Botanic Gar­dens. 10am to 5pm daily (Wed to 8pm). En­try is by gold coin and works are for sale. More: www.theeter­nalorderin­na­ture.com

Syd­ney’s Friends of the Royal Botanic Gar­dens are stag­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion of pho­to­graphs from Bri­tain’s In­ter­na­tional Gar­den Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year competition, in which two Aus­tralians Claire Takacs and Deb­bie Hart­ley, won prizes. The ex­hi­bi­tion, from Au­gust 11 to 28, will fea­ture more than 90 pho­to­graphs, in­clud­ing the win­ners. The in­spir­ing win­ning en­tries from the re­cently judged first Aus­tralian Gar­den Pho­to­graphs Ex­hi­bi­tion, or­gan­ised by the Friends of the Botanic Gar­dens, will also be on show. The ex­hi­bi­tion is on daily from 10am to 4pm at the Lion Gate Lodge, Royal Botanic Gar­dens, Mrs Mac­quarie’s Road, Syd­ney. There is an en­try fee. Fol­low daily gar­den tips and tricks on twit­ter.com/hol­lyk­er­forsyth. Holly Kerr Forsyth’s new book, Sea­sons in My House and Gar­den, is out now.

HOLLY KERR FORSYTH

It’s al­most time to start plant­ing laven­der for next sum­mer

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