Lavenders for all four season? Yes (though maybe not for super cold climates – but read on…)
Lavenders are one of my favorite low-water, low-maintenance perennials for zone 9 garden.
After designing gardens for 20 years now, I’d have to say they’re in at least 90% of my gardens – and for good reason!
Many varieties of lavender are really long-lived and they thrive on neglect (the most common cause of their demise is poor drainage and overwatering.)
But most importantly, the deer don’t like them, rabbits don’t like them, and even our dreaded gophers tends to leave them alone. However…
Despite their best qualities, when consulting with gardeners about lavenders, there are three things I’ve noticed:
1. A lot of people tend to use the same varieties over and over again, which is such a shame as there are so many varieties on the market.
2. Gardeners have become jaded with lavenders. I think this is because lavenders do so well in our area they’ve become a bit ubiquitous and (gasp!) a tad common.
3. Some people are frustrated with lavenders – they love the flowers, but after they bloom, their plants look half-dead the rest of the year, like little mounds of sparse sticks.
So today, I thought I’d talk about seven of my favorite varieties of lavender that I have in my new garden – and why they made the cut.
I’d have to say that the #1 reason that I have so many varieties is that I LOVE THE SMELL OF LAVENDER!
And by strategically placing certain varieties in my garden, I’m guaranteed at least 9-months of bloom and (ready for this?) year-round fragrance.
I can already see some of you shaking your heads in disbelief, but it’s true!
Here’s a seasonal calendar, and the varieties I use to give me that year-round lavender love:
Late winter/early spring – Lavendula stoechas varieties (Spanish lavender)
The Spanish lavenders are some of the earliest to bloom in my garden, often as early as March.
These are the flowers that have the ‘rabbit ears’ on top, giving them a very unique appearance that makes them a favorite among children. These lavenders have more of a eucalyptus fragrance and can also handle a bit more humidity than other lavenders.
Lavender stoechas ‘Kew Red’
This is the variety of Spanish lavenders I use most often. It isn’t red at all, actually, but a stunning, lavender-pink color.
The flowers are at least twice as large as the standard variety, and they they go through various petal colors depending on the time of year. Sometimes they’ll start out pale pink, often with a dark maroon center, then turning a light lavender color.
The entire plant has a looser habit, too, blending in beautifully in a more casual garden setting.
In another area of my garden, I have the common variety of Spanish lavender (pictured left.)
Man, oh man, the bees go crazy for the flowers. I counted no less than 50 honeybees on this bush in a single sitting!
A lot of people ask me how to prune lavenders, and I always advise to do so cautiously! If you prune too hard (into the thick woody branches), you might inadvertently kill the entire branch.
Spanish lavenders are fairly large and should be cut back by 1/3 to 1/2 when they’re finished blooming to keep a more manageable and tidy appearance. (see below)
Early summer – Lavandula angustifolia varieties (English lavenders)
Next up are the English lavenders, which begin blooming June through July. They’re also quite hardy, performing well even in zone 5 gardens!
These lavenders are generally smaller in size with tight, barrel-shaped flower clusters on tiny blue-green foliage.
My very favorite English lavender variety is ‘Hidcote,’ as it has the deepest purple/blue flowers I’ve seen.
Give it a few years to become established, and you’ll be amazed at the zillions of flowers it produces!
‘Hidcote’ also withstands hot summers better than most English lavender (a bonus in my garden!)
They’re supposed to grow 18-24” but when they’re happy, it’s more like 24” – 30”.
When I’m consulting and hear a gardener lamenting over their boring bundles of dead-sticks, they’re usually talking about their English lavender.
It’s the teeny, tiny leaves of English lavenders that cause these lavenders to appear half-dead throughout the fall and winter.
But don’t forget – English lavenders more than make up for this once early spring hits!
When other lavender varieties haven’t yet woken up, the English lavender is smothered with delicate pollinator-attracting flowers!
‘Blue Spear‘ is another English lavender that is quickly becoming a favorite, with showy flowers that are larger than Hidcote’s.
To ensure the English lavender’s downtime doesn’t drive a client crazy, my solution is to always planting something with year-round beauty nearby to distract the eye.
That includes other lavender varieties that look good in the winter (see below!)
When I have clients who specifically request lavenders for cooking, it’s the English varieties that I’ll use as they contain very high-quality and fragrant oils.
Mid-to-Late Summer – Lavandula x intermedia varieties (Lavandins)
Lavandins are lavender hybrids (a cross between l. angustifolia and l. latifolia) that tend to bloom once the hot, hot days of summer arrive.
The lavandins also have a high essential oil content making them ideal for using in perfume instead of cooking.
‘Provence’ is the lavandin that most people think of, and one variety that I’ve used a lot over the years. Their larger leaves also mean they don’t look quite as bad in the winter, as the English lavenders do.
French lavenders (Lavendulan dentata) are another long-blooming variety that I use when I have the room, as it quickly grows to 3’x5’. Its foliage has little ‘teeth’ along the edges (hence the ‘dentata’ in the name) and often looks good throughout the winter.
When I have a client that tells me that absolutely don’t want a lavender that looks half-dead in the winter, I’ll give them a French lavender.
‘Sweet Lavender’ is one of my favorite hybrids of l. dentata, and is fast growing to 4×6. It’s a really old variety, dating to the 1800s, and in my experience, it’s hardier than other dentatas.
Throughout the summer, Sweet lavender is covered in tons of stick-straight flowers on very long stems (sometimes up to 20”.)
It’s not the best for cooking, as the oil has a high menthol content, but if you want months of summer blooms, this is one that you’ll want in your garden.
Fall thru Winter Meerlo & Pinnata (sorry – best in mild climates only)
These are the months when it can be tricky to find lavenders that bloom. But not if you have a Jagged Lavender (Lavandula pinnata buchii) in your garden!
I have three Jagged lavenders in my garden, all of which bloom from December through April, and off and on throughout the rest of the year.
Yes, they’re pretty much year-round with a few weeks here and there for downtime. Unfortunately, these are tender beauties – no temps below 30!
However, if you live in a colder climate, they’re fast growers, which means you could use them as annuals and, perhaps, bring them inside a brightly lit room during a cold snap.
Jagged lavender has soft and delicate foliage that is oversized and finely dissected – not unlike a fern.
The soft green-gray color looks stunning against the deep, dark flowers that grow in a candelabra shape on top of 25” stems (see pic at end of post for proof!)
The form of the plant is a little unkempt and wild-looking, thanks to the super tall stems that grow this way and that.
But I just love it and so appreciate the flowers when not much is happening in the garden.
(If you haven’t seen my recent post, click here and scroll to the bottom to see my video that shows just how much our California pipevine butterflies love this plant!)
Lavandula allardii ‘Meerlo’
Drumroll please…the lavender that I’ve had the best luck with every single month of the year is Lavandula ‘Meerlo.’
But here’s the catch – I’ve never seen them bloom. NEVER!
I’ve heard from others they sporadically kick out a few light blue flowers, but none of mine have ever bloomed.
But that doesn’t matter one bit to me, because it’s the foliage I’m after. ‘Meerlo’s foliage is one of THE most fragrant of all lavender varieties, with lush branches that never look bad (even on the coldest winter day.)
Keep in mind, though, that ‘coldest’ in my garden is about 28-degrees. But even so – it ALWAYS looks amazing!
In the dead of winter, I’ll clip a branch to bring in the house, and it perfumes the whole room – how can you beat that?
In addition to the fragrance, it’s the spectacular variegated foliage that stops gardeners in their tracks.
Each stem is covered with tightly placed (ie: LUSH looking), lightly serrated leaves, each with a gray-green center bordered with creamy yellow margins.
The result is a lavender that appears much softer and lush looking than other varieties.
And, unlike many other variegated lavenders on the market today, the foliage on ‘Meerlo’ doesn’t revert to gray but instead maintains its striking color year after year.
I’ve had some for several years now, and I’ve yet to see a branch that has reverted.
While walking around my garden, gathering lavender flowers that were blooming this time of year (early spring) I thought it might be fun to lay them out next to a ruler to show you just how different they are!
Some are quite long, some short and stubby, some sparse, and some very lush. Keep in mind, these are just the early bloomers, too!
For more information on choosing the best lavender for your climate, click here.
And for a fun and easy lavender project, here’s a simple tutorial on making lavender wands.
I’ve made them in the past and they last for years and years, adding a wonderful fragrance to a line drawer.
This is a lavender wand I made it over 10 years ago and it STILL smells heavenly!