Lavenders for all four seasons

Lavenders are one of my favorite low-water, low-maintenance perennials for my mild-climate, 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 springLavendula 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.

The variety I use most is Kew Red,’ which isn’t red at all, 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 below,) and let me tell you 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)

And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get another batch of blooms a few months later!

Lavandula viridis (Yellow Lavender)

This is another early blooming variety, with rabbit-ear blooms similar to Spanish lavender. 

While it can be hard to find, it’s worth the hunt as it’s a spectacularly subtle lavender to add to your garden bed.  Especially if you were creating a serene chartreuse-green bed, or an all yellow bed.  

If you happen to live in Northern California, you can see a few incredible examples of this lavender at the Sacramento Historic Cemetery.

 

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 (hey, they have to rest, too, you know!) 

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!)

And, drumroll please, the lavender that I’ve had the best luck with every single month of the year is Lavandula allardii ‘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! 

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12 Comments

  • Hi Rebecca,
    I have a spot saved for some lavender, but am afraid to choose one. I am in 7b – about like you, but in North Carolina, so I have to subject the lavender to humidity. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hi Lin – I’m in zone 9 (where there’s very little humidity) but I do know that the beautiful ‘Meerlo’ has a higher tolerance for humidity, as do the Spanish lavenders. You might give one of them a try. I hope one of them works out for you in your garden!!

      Reply
  • What’s the best way to trim lavenders? Mine always look terrible for months after a trim. There must be a better way!

    Reply
    • Hi Pat – it really depends on what type of lavender (English, French, Spanish?) As a general rule, I don’t like to cut more than 1/3 off for fear I cut into the hard wood. Lavenders don’t usually respond well to really hard pruning like that. I’ll probably prune my Spanish lavenders within the next few weeks. Maybe I’ll make a quick video showing how I do it and post it on this article. I found an article on Monrovia’s site which might help: https://growbeautifully.monrovia.com/when-to-prune-lavender/

      Reply
  • Looking forward to trying the variegated leaf variety. My lavenders are now in full bloom! Wonderful!

    Nancy

    Reply
    • I think you’ll be pleased with it, Nancy. Don’t be fooled by other varieties, though, as in my experience they all revert back to green/gray pretty quickly. ‘Meerlo’ retains its variegation and has beautiful creamy-yellow tones to it.

      Reply
  • I especially look forward to your posts. I have not been a lavender fan but you have peeked my interest. I too live in a zone 9 area.and my goal is blooms year round which I have pretty much achieved with the help of camillias and hellebores.. Love Meerlo.

    Reply
    • Hi Cathy, well if you do happen to try one for year-round interest you might give ‘Meerlo’ a go (even though it doesn’t bloom, the foliage is amazing) or even the Jagged Lavender if you have the room (they’re pretty large!) So glad you enjoy my blog, too! 🙂

      Reply
  • So interesting to learn in depth how best to use the wide variety of lavenders that are now available. I used to grow them; I have been transistioning more to native plants in my garden but also like to include non-native plants that provide food/cover for wildlife. I do recall Lesser Goldfinch happily feeding on the seed heads of my Spanish Lavender, so I may add one somewhere if I can find a place to tuck one in!

    Reply
    • Hi Ronnie – in my mother’s garden, I’ve also seen little Goldfinches absolutely swarm the long lavender wands of ‘Provence’ in the early fall. Maybe a Spanish lavender for the spring feeders and a ‘Provence’ or similar for the fall feeders?

      Reply
  • What a fabulous and informative post on lavenders! I love them and use them a lot, but the different varieties and growth forms can be hard to keep track of. This has motivated me to try some new things. Thank you:)

    Reply
    • Thanks so much, Katie – I’m so glad its motivated you to try new lavenders. There’s so many on the market now I can’t keep up with them all!

      Reply

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