I’m always interested in growing plants with intense fragrance in containers, placed on doorsteps and close to outdoor chairs where they can be enjoyed up close. Lavender is frequently among the group of pots I set out each spring, and I’m picky about which lavenders I choose. Although lavender flowers are long lasting (and some will repeat bloom), the stems and foliage aren’t always attractive. I’ve solved this problem by growing ‘Twickel Purple’ (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Twickel Purple’, 24 inches /60 cm, Zone 6), developed at Twickel Castle in Holland. The grey-green leaves are softer and longer than the foliage on other lavenders (and almost pretty as the flowers), and the individual florets are larger.
I try to have one of the Spanish lavenders, too, and one I like is frost-tender ‘Blueberry Ruffles’ (L. stoechas ‘Blueberry Ruffles’, 24 inches/60 cm, Zone 9) from the Ruffles Series. It has light green leaves and tightly packed blue flower spikes topped by long wavy pink-purple petals. The Spanish lavenders are repeat bloomers, and available in other intense colours like cerise pink ‘Kew Red’ (L. stoechas subsp. stoechas f. rosea ‘Kew Red’, 18 inches/45 cm, Zone 8).
Lavender plants are associated with intense scent and, of course, their dusky purple colour. But what about white or pink lavenders — would they smell as sweet as the classic purple varieties? ‘Melissa’ (L. angustifolia ‘Melissa’, 28 inches/70 cm, Zone 6) has chalk-white buds that open to white and pale pink flowers, and is described as sweetly fragrant. (But how fragrant is that, compared to the standard purple lavender?) ‘Pink Perfume’ (‘Pink Perfume’, 24 inches/60 cm, Zone 5) produces masses of rosy pink flower spikes and ‘Loddon Blue’ (L. angustifolia ‘Loddon Blue’, 22 inches/55 cm, Zone 5), a compact variety useful for hedging, has mid- to dark-blue flowers. If I can find these plants, it might be interesting to grow a pot of each and compare the intensity of fragrance.
Lavender likes sandy soil with swift drainage, and tends to struggle and pout in my clay loam garden. As further proof of the unsuitability of my garden soil, even the hardy lavenders refuse to survive a winter here. They are happiest in a container placed in bright sun, where heat brings out their best performance. The pots can easily be brought indoors to a sunny window over winter if I want to keep them. I prepare a soil mix of equal parts coarse builder’s sand, peat moss and purchased clay-based potting soil (you know it’s clay because the bag will feel heavy), and throw in a handful or two of chopped leaves raked up in spring cleaning. Lavender plants really like this mix, and it’s infinitely easier than trying to get the plants to flourish in my garden beds.
For a plant associated with warmer Mediterranean conditions, there certainly is a thriving interest in growing lavender in the north, and so many varieties and species to choose from. (The upcoming summer issue of Garden Making will have a feature on growing lavender, by Laura Langston, and includes several sources for lavender plants.) Some lavender species are grown from seed; others can only be reproduced from cuttings, and certain growers believe that the vegetatively produced plants have better fragrance. But be your own judge about that!
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