Lavender a good partner for roses
LAST week I wrote an article on roses , this week it is lavender. In truth I could have combined these two plants in one article as roses and lavender have connections that go back centuries. Strawberries and cream, rhubarb and custard, Laurel and Hardy and lavender and roses they just go together. Lavender and roses have been cultivated together dating back as far as the ancient Egytians who used them in their burial rituals and mummification process. The Greeks and Romans were also avid growers. Both plants were grown for their scent as well as flower and were planted together not just because they looked fantastic but because lavender helped keep the roses healthy by discouraging aphids.
In today’s world we are lucky enough to grow roses and lavender in our gardens for their outstanding beauty as ornamental plants. There are some thirty nine different lavender species but we commonly grow only half a dozen in our gardens. Their native habitat is the Mediterranean, North Africa and even as far as India. This gives you an insight into what growing conditions they prefer. Dry, thin poor soils and hot temperatures.
Doesn’t sound like your average Irish garden but thankfully lavender is somewhat adaptable and will tolerate the wet, fertile soils and cool temperatures we can offer. Within reason that is - wet or waterlogged soils no matter how much sun it is getting is a recipe for dead plants. So the advice is to plant in a full sun position in a well drained location, you can add some horticultural grit to the soil if you want, and don’t over feed. Our soils tend to be fertile enough without additional feeding for lavender. Too much feed can lead to excessive growth and lack of flower.
The two main varieties of lavender we grow in our gardens are Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula x intermedia. Both are hardy and as with all lavenders they are good seaside plants. Angustifolia known as English or True lavender is more compact flowering at 60cms. Intermedia flowers at 80cms. Angustifolia has a sweeter scent and is the most prized in the purfume world. Intermedia is said to have a camphor smell which I prefer to call musty. Both make excellent informal hedges but intermedia makes a better spot or feature plant in a border because of its size. That said lavenders works best when multi-planted in group in my opinion.
Lavendula stoechas, also known as French lavender, is slightly less hardy but in Irish conditions it doesn’t tend to be an issue. It is even more particular about having dry soils and won’t tolerate wet winter soils. It can be grown as an annual if you don’t mind replacing every year and it is often used in summer pot displays. It is quite distinctive from angustifolia or intermedia by its ‘rabbit ear’ flower heads.
Even more tender, even in Irish conditions but particularly lovely, are Lavendula dentata and Lavendula pinnata. Both of these species should be winter protected or grown as annuals. That said I grew Lavendula dentata outside for three years before it sucumbed to a winter frost. I guess what I’m saying is expected to lose them each winter but as a bonus you may well get a number of summers from them if it stays mild enough.
Lavender is of course blue/purple but there are pink and white varieties available in all species, there are also many cultivated named varieties available in all species. L. angustifolia ‘Munstead’ and L. Hidcote are both excellent but L. ‘Imperial Gem’ is even better if you can locate it. It’s more compact and great for hedging with a very dark flower. L. ‘Loddon Pink ‘ is of course pink andL. ‘Arctic Snow’ is white.
It is vital that lavender is annually pruned. This will stopped it growing woody, make it live longer and flower better. Angustifolias should be pruned in mid August and intermedias in early September. You have to be cruel to be kind with lavenders. Don’t just clip off the flowers, you need to get into the plant and prune back to the lowest live growth. Don’t however cut back into the old leafless growth as lavenders will not regenerate from this.