Not just for lovers

JANE WRIGGLESWORTH
Last updated 08:42 21/02/2014
Southland Times photo
Fairfax NZ
It is aromatic and looks graceful.

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Lavender is versatile and you can have it in bloom all year round.

In 1584, Clement Robinson wrote that lavender is for lovers true, but I reckon it's for pretty much everyone. Bakers can bake with it, home crafters can make crafts and cosmetics with it and gardeners, of course, can garden with it. Lavender is truly versatile, and with a planting of various species and cultivars you can have lavender in bloom year-round.

I recently bought Lavandula x intermedia 'Super ', which, because of its high oil content, is considered one of the best intermedias for essential oil. It is certainly aromatic, and its tall stems with light violet-green calyxes and light violet flowers give it a graceful appearance. It flowers throughout summer, its stems reaching 90 centimetres high. It's a lavender that is suitable for picking, for extracting oil and for hedging.

But there are hundreds of lavender cultivars and hybrids available on the market, with new ones being bred each year. In 2013, we saw a number of new varieties on offer, including 'Lavender with love' and 'The Princess Lavender'.

The former has pretty pink flowers in late winter/spring and flushes throughout the year. It's a compact plant, growing 60cm high x 60cm wide.

'The Princess Lavender' has striking neon pink flowers, also from late winter/early spring. The flowers continue to early summer, though it also has a secondary summer flush. Plants grow 70cm high x 70cm wide.

Other recent additions include 'Thumberlina Leigh', 'Grace Leigh' and 'Sweetberry Ruffles'. 'Thumberlina Leigh' is hailed as the world's smallest English lavender. It's very showy, with deep purple-blue calyxes and dark lavender flowers on stems that reach 30cm high. Its diminutive form makes it ideal for containers and small garden borders, or as an edging plant along paths. And it would make someone the perfect gift in a container.

'Grace Leigh' is another English lavender with soft lilac blooms over silver foliage. It grows a little taller - 50cm high by 50cm wide - with stems ideal for picking.

'Sweetberry Ruffles' has large blooms with soft pink ruffled wings and deep rose florets. It has a compact habit with the flowers sitting just above the foliage. In the Ruffles collection there is also 'Boysenberry Ruffles', a musky pink with centres of swirling white tones; 'Sugarberry Ruffles', with mauve-pink flowers; and 'Blueberry Ruffles', which has deep mauve-purple flowers.

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If you want something a little different, go for a white lavender such as Lavandula stoechas 'Snowy River' or Lavandula x intermedia 'Dutch White', both available from Leafy Hollow lavender nursery.

A white lavender may seem like an incongruous term, but they look fabulous in the garden. Placed alongside others, they set off the deep purple flowers and bracts of traditional lavenders.

'Snowy River' is a compact plant, growing 60cm high and wide.

It's smothered in small white flowers and white bracts throughout spring and summer. It makes an excellent low hedge or feature plant.

'Dutch White' is a medium sized plant growing 70cm high. Being an intermedia, it's very aromatic.

Lavendula stoechas 'Ballerina' is another stunner, with small bright violet-blue flowers and white bracts that age to pink. The bracts have green veining and a hint of lavender on the tips. This variety was raised in New Zealand by Peter Carter in 1997.

In the garden, English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Lavandula x intermedia (the latter is a sterile hybrid between L. angustifolia and L. latifolia) are the most hardy of all lavenders; Lavandula stoechas (aka French lavender, sometimes called Spanish lavender) is also hardy; Lavandula dentata (known as fringed lavender or sometimes French lavender) is less hardy and needs protection from heavy frosts.

If you want to use your lavenders for crafting, the intermedia types are ideal. For cooking, use angustifolia lavenders - they are sweeter in fragrance and have a low camphoraceous content.

Lavenders grow best when there is adequate calcium in the soil. Some growers mulch with shells to reflect the sunlight and to promote healthy growth.

Lime may be added in autumn or before planting.

Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil. Lavenders need lots of sun to flower well.

Water well at the time of planting out and until plants are established.

Mature plants may become drought tolerant, but regular moisture is best to ensure minimal stress during the heat of summer.Strong winds will desiccate plants, so regular watering is necessary in windy spots.

Remember, though, that lavenders hate standing in water.

Cut back by about one-third at the end of the flower season to help them look full and lush. If not pruned they tend to become woody and will look leggy and barren.

Give plants adequate spacing between them to ensure good airflow so as to reduce any chance of disease.

In areas prone to humidity, excellent drainage is especially necessary.

If you want to increase your stock, take soft or semi-hardward cuttings to maintain the plant's character.

- The Southland Times

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