Many lo­cal gar­den­ers have a love af­fair with laven­der

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FEW other plants com­bine as many qual­i­ties as laven­der — fra­grance, mag­nif­i­cent mauve blue flow­ers, strik­ing fo­liage, drought tol­er­ance, and nat­u­ral in­sect re­pelling prop­er­ties that make it an ideal com­pan­ion plant.

What is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing about laven­der as a gar­den plant is its adapt­abil­ity. Orig­i­nally from the stony, arid slopes of Provence and the sur­round­ing Mediter­ranean, it has be­come a com­pletely do­mes­ti­cated gar­den plant that is grown in al­most ev­ery part of the world.

SA has its own love af­fair with laven­der and in par­tic­u­lar with the South African bred La­van­dula in­ter­me­dia “Mar­garet Roberts” that is the most pop­u­lar and best­per­form­ing va­ri­ety. It seems to be tougher and longer-last­ing than all the other laven­ders, es­pe­cially when grown on the highveld.

The orig­i­nal plant arose from a cross-pol­li­na­tion of La­van­dula lat­i­fo­lia, a laven­der that was grown by Mar­garet Roberts’ grand­mother, and a La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia that was on trial at the Her­bal Cen­tre gar­dens.

“Mar­garet Roberts” laven­der grows into a huge 1.5m high and wide bush that never stops flow­er­ing. Although the in­di­vid­ual flow­ers are not showy, the mass of blooms that it pro­duces makes this plant a show-stop­per.

Reg­u­lar re­moval of the dead spikes or a gen­eral trim af­ter each flush brings on more flow­ers. When trim­ming, only re­move about a third of the growth and never cut into the woody stems.

On a re­cent tour of gar­dens in the Kyalami area I saw a bank of laven­der “Mar­garet Roberts’ cov­er­ing an en­tire slope, while in an­other gar­den it was planted as a back­drop to apricot-coloured roses that were be­ing grown be­tween and up stone pil­lars. I’ve also seen it grown be­hind a bed of yel­low Rud­beckia and the con­trast of pur­ple and yel­low is a win­ner.

Most laven­der va­ri­eties grown here seem to be a soft mauve or mauve-blue, so it was a sur­prise to see deeper blue laven­ders in flower when I vis­ited English gar­dens a few months ago. I dis­cov­ered they were La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia va­ri­eties and on check­ing lo­cally found that some are avail­able here. These in­clude com­pact La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia “Blue River” (30cm) that was grown some years ago in the Ball­Straathof trial gar­dens in Hon­ey­dew; L an­gus­ti­fo­lia “Hid­cote Blue Strain” that reaches 25cm to 30cm; L an­gus­ti­fo­lia “True English” (30cm to 50cm) with vi­o­let blue flow­ers; and the dwarf L an­gus­ti­fo­lia “El­la­gance” that is avail­able in dark and light blue.

Mar­laen Straathof says that the La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia va­ri­eties pre­fer the cooler weather of spring and au­tumn, but will con­tinue to flower in sum­mer.

The equally pop­u­lar La­van­dula den­tata also takes a dip in flow­er­ing in the in­tense heat of sum­mer and can be given a light prune to keep them in shape.

Span­ish laven­der (La­van­dula stoechas) is most spec­tac­u­lar in spring, fol­lowed by a sec­ond, lesser flush in au­tumn. Stoechas range in size and colour from deep blue to red and white. The plants are com­pact, 30cm to 60cm high, with grey/green fine leaves.

Some un­usual colours can be found in the new Coco range that in­cludes Coco Bella Rouge, a Coco dark pink, Coco white on blue (the ster­ile bract is white and the flower blue), Coco pur­ple and Coco candy pink.

If pruned af­ter the first flush they will have a sec­ond flush just be­fore win­ter. Don’t prune them in au­tumn or spring, as this will sac­ri­fice their flow­er­ing sea­son.

The gen­eral rule when prun­ing laven­der is to cut back by a third. If cut­ting back needs to be more se­vere to re­gen­er­ate the bush, cut two thirds but make sure that there are enough leaves left, other­wise the bush will not re­cover.

The main re­quire­ments of laven­der are soil that drains well, plenty of sun­shine and wa­ter­ing once a week or twice a week if the soil is sandy. La­van­dula stoechas likes a more acid soil and for good growth you can add in about a hand­ful of lime per square me­tre when plant­ing.

Laven­der in pots needs to be wa­tered ev­ery day or at least ev­ery sec­ond day.

Mist ir­ri­ga­tion is bet­ter than over­head sprin­klers, which can make the fo­liage too wet and heavy, pos­si­bly re­sult­ing in fun­gal dis­eases.

A rose and laven­der walk­way at a gar­den in Beaulieu, above. The softer blue shades of English laven­der (La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia), left.

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