Spring-flowering lavender is starting to make its presence felt, very close to home.
In my neighbour’s pavement garden, tall-growing Margaret Roberts’ lavender softens a redbrick wall, with lower and showier Stoechas lavender as a border. It is a breathtaking sight!
Few plants match lavender for fragrance, and although it’s a healing and tonic herb, it is more likely to be found in the flower garden than among vegetables and herbs. It’s grown with roses, clipped into hedges, lines pathways, fills containers and acts as a silvery-grey foliage plant in the garden.
As a landscape plant, its main assets are drought tolerance, the variety and colour of its flowers and that it grows well in partial shade, even though everyone regards it as a full-sun plant.
Lavender’s non-negotiable requirement is light soil that drains well. Normal garden soil generally requires an addition of compost and other organics to improve the drainage. In gardens with clay soil, it is better to grow lavender in pots.
Space plants 45cm to 90cm apart to allow good air circulation which prevents fungus disease. Water well to establish and then reduce watering, especially during a rainy period.
Watering with sprinklers can make the foliage too wet and heavy resulting in fungus disease. Rather use mist or drip irrigation. Prevent lavender from getting woody by cutting back by two thirds after flowering.
Best spring lavender
The showiest spring flowering lavender is Lavandula stoechas, which has large flowers topped with bracts that look like wings. A new introduction is LaVela, a very early flowering variety, up to a month before other stoechas varieties. It has a pleasing fragrance and attracts pollinators.
Plants are sturdy and bushy, with silvery foliage and flowers in vivid colours. The plants are neat and compact (38cm high and 30cm wide) and show off best when planted in groups. Trim after flowering in spring.
Bandera is another stoechas with great flower power. It is bred to be dense and compact and does not need to be pinched to become bushy. It produces a second flush of flowers and doesn’t need to be dead-headed as the flowers fall off cleanly when they are over.
Companions for lavender
Another very beautiful mauve perennial that has the same airy beauty as lavender is Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia). The Blue Steel variety carries clouds of small lavender-blue flowers above aromatic, silvery foliage. Blue Steel is a summer to autumn flowering perennial that is heat and drought tolerant.
Use lavender as you will; as a hedge, in drifts, against a wall, lining a pathway, or as individual feature plants. Plant in full sun in soil that drains well. It is quite compact in its first year (45 to 60cm high) and then develops into a showy 97cm high plant in its second year. Cut back plants in spring to get strong new growth.
Euphorbia hypericifolia, Breathless, looks like Baby’s breath but is made of sterner stuff. It is a rounded plant covered in a mist of white or pink tinged flowers in summer. Breathless Blush is the first dark-foliaged Euphorbia with red-flushed leaves and pink-flushed flowers. Breathless White is a sturdier plant and has masses of white self-cleaning flowers.
The long-lasting and free flowering plants are heat tolerant across a wide range of conditions and fill in fast, making well rounded plants.
Plants are available through garden centres. For more information visit Ball Straathof or contact 011-794-2316.