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Lavender varieties: what kind of lavender is best for your garden?

Val Bourne / 08 August 2022

Explore the many different lavender varieties available, whether you're looking for a statement plant or a low hedge.

English lavender with a honey bee

Lavender is a quintessential cottage garden plant that’s been grown in gardens for centuries. The silvery foliage and highly aromatic smell, caused by the foliage’s oily covering, indicates a need for full sun because the oily coating is rather like a sunscreen protection. If a plant’s pungent always give it sun. The pale foliage shrugs off the heat and the deep root system, which can go down three feet or more once established, make lavenders very drought-tolerant plants. They will cope with climate change well, as long as the soil is free-draining. Do bear in mind that their deep root system, which consists of fine root hairs, needs time to develop though. Newly planted lavenders should be watered in dry weather during the growing season.

We tend to grow lavender for purely ornamental purposes these days, but the name lavender comes from lava meaning to wash. In the past it was used to heal and soothe and we still use lavender hand cream because it’s highly effective at healing cracks and splits. The Romans reputedly made oil from the foliage and added it to their bathing water to aid oil relaxation.

Lavender, a member of the mint family, is found in Mediterranean regions, North Africa, Asia and several Atlantic islands. There are over 40 species and hardiness varies greatly. The most widely used garden forms are either English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) or hybrid lavandins listed under Lavandula x intermedia, a hybrid between English lavender and spike lavender. There are also frost-tender lavenders, half hardy and tender lavenders and pruning varies according to hardiness.

Where to buy lavender

You’ll get better cutting-raised plants and a far wider range from the mail order specialist Downderry Nursery. It’s run by lavender specialist Dr Simon Charlesworth and his wife Dawn and their nursery is the premier supplier of lavender plants. Norfolk Lavender also sell good plants and a wide range of lavender products –

English lavender varieties: short and sweet - hardy hedgers and edgers

English lavender (L. angustifolia) is perfect for lavender hedging or edging borders because it’s short and compact. The foliage is narrow and silvery and the flowering spikes, which come in lilac, white, pink and many shades of blue. Most have a rounded top that doesn’t taper at the top of the spire. The flowers appear in early summer and, if you plan to dry the flowers, they should be cut during Wimbledon fortnight and hung upside down in bunches. It’s worth noting that white- and pink-flowered forms are never quite as robust in habit and their paler flowers do show some browning when they fade.

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Some of the best varieties of English lavender

‘Beechwood Blue’ AGM
Grey-green foliage flatters sweetly scented rich-purple to blue flowers on this compact variety. This UK bred selection was introduced in the1920s and the flowers splay out more than most – very effectively. 50-80cm

‘Hidcote’ AGM
The grey foliage and deep-purple flowers of this readily available lavender were grown at the National trust’s Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire from the 1920s onwards. It was collected in France by Major Lawrence Johnston and then distributed by Tommy Carlyle’s Loddon Nurseries, once based in Twyford in Berkshire, post Second World War. Lots of imposters, but the original is a stunner! 50-85cm

A bushy lavender with masses of light blue-purple flowers described as ultra-violet, by Downderry Nursery. This Norfolk variety, of undefinable age, stays neat and tidy. 60cm

‘Melissa Lilac’
My personal favourite, ever since it was launched at The Chelsea Flower show of 2003, by Downderry Nurseries. The larger than average flowers, with distinct florets, are a soft lilac-blue and the grey-green foliage is equally sumptuous. 60cm

‘Miss Katherine’ AGM
If you want to grow a pink lavender this is the best one of all. Darker buds open to warm-pink flowers with darker veins. It makes a wide plant and it sells out quickly, because it’s so popular. Arose as a sport (a different coloured shoot) in 1986 on Norfolk Lavender and launched in 1992. 70 x 70cm

How to look after English lavender

This is the hardiest of all lavenders and the longest lived, as long as it is pruned properly. Always cut the foliage back to 22cm (9in), or about a third, immediately after flowering. This will encourage bushy shoots before winter arrives. If winter cuts back the foliage, trim it in early spring. You can often revitalise old, woody lavenders by cutting them back hard to the lowest shoots. It usually works.

Lavandins - hardy and graceful lavenders that billow out

The hybrid lavender lavandins are widely grown by the perfume industry because they produce an abundance of exceptionally fragrant oil that contains high levels of camphor. Lavandins form larger, rounder plants and their long, splayed stems bear long, tapering heads of flower typically measuring up to three inches in length. This hybrid doesn’t produce seeds, so the flowers last longer than those of English lavender. Our warming climate suits them well, but they still need full sun and good drainage. Use these architectural lavandins as specimen plants and give individuals the space to shine. They add winter interest too.

This distinctive lavandin is widely grown in commercial fields for its camphor-rich oil, which is widely used in detergents and potpourri etc. The foliage is light-green, rather than silvery, and the mid-purple slender flower spikes are held on stems that radiate out to form a hedgehog-like arrangement. It’s longer lived than many lavandins, but it doesn’t have that silver shimmer. ‘Grosso’ is named after the Frenchman who found it in his fields in 1972. 100cm

‘Fragrant Memories’
Pale-purple flowers and silvery foliage create their own heat haze on this more-compact lavandin. This old, robust variety was discovered in lavender fields near Canterbury in Kent in the 1920s, but was named by Blooms of Bressingam in 1994. The grey foliage is superb in winter, but lighter pruning is required on this variety. Just shape it in September. 100cm

‘Richard Gray’ AGM
Grey foliage and blunter-ended flowers in rich-purple, together with a more compact habit, make this one well-worth seeking out. This arose at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew in the mid-1980s. 100cm

‘Hidcote Giant’ AGM
Plump purple flowers, rather than the usual slender spires, make this a great lavender to cut or grow. It also has a strong fragrance. It does sprawl as it ages, but those plumptious flowers are highly desirable. It arose as a seedling at Hidcote Manor Gardens in 1957 and was spotted by the then owner Major Lawrence Johnston. Unique and highly decorative. 90-95cm

‘Sussex’ (syn. ‘Arabian Night’) AGM
A New Zealander from North Island, with a complicated background when it comes to name, has the longest flowering spikes of all. The masses of violet flower spikes are not nearly as floppy as some and the darker calices are very attractive. 100cm

How to look after lavandins

These hybrids can involve more than one species. If the foliage is very silvery and soft, the less than hardy Lavendula lanata might be involved so a gentler pruning regime is recommended for softer-leaved grey foliage varieties. The Dutch Group, ‘Fragrant Memories’ and ‘Lullingstone Castle’ are all less hardy and they should be pruned just into the foliage in March – once the sap is rising. However, if the foliage is narrower, Downderry advise chopping them back as long as there’s a good smattering of small shoots visible lower down. This may mean sacrificing some late flowers. If there are no low shoots visible by late summer your lavender is probably fading away and unlikely to return next year.

Tufted frost-hardy lavenders

These flower from spring to autumn, rationing out their flowers, so they will need deadheading in order to encourage more bloom. The plump flower spikes have a tuft of petals at the top, known as ‘ears’, so they make showy plants. The growth habit ends to be upright and you must find them a warm, well-drained sunny position because their breeding line includes species form warm areas of the Mediterranean. They will tolerate temperatures up until -5C and some gardeners grow them in containers and move them under cover in winter because they suffer in winter wet. Many deliberately raised varieties hail from New Zealand and Australia. Lots of new ones on the horizon, but they do have a limited lifespan of four to five years.

‘Flaming Purple’
This lavender has long purple ears above the dark flower spikes, above narrow green leaves. The ears move in the breeze, adding movement. This cross between pedunculata and atlantica was bred and introduced by Downderry in 2009. 75cm

‘Willow Vale’ AGM
This Australian lavender came from a garden in New South Wales, but it was introduced here in the early 1990s. It constantly throws out more purple flowers crowned by wide petals that rise upwards displaying a darker midrib. 60cm

‘Night of Passion’
Another new one from Downderry, named in 2008 for its sultry plump flower spikes topped with lighter tufts. A selected form of L. stoechas subsp. stoechas, it prefers acidic soil. Use ericaceous compot if you containerise it. 45cm

How to look after tufted lavenders

The accepted wisdom is to prune hard to 22cm (9in) immediately after the first flowering – observing the small shoots rule. They could also have a light trim in autumn – once flowering has finished.

Half-hardy lavenders

Half-hardy lavenders need planting in May and they will survive in very sheltered sunny places that don’t fall lower than 0C. They survive well in front of south-facing walls, for instance. The attractive foliage is often toothed and hairy and the pale, tufted flowers add to the soft look. Any pruning is light and done in late spring.

L. dentata
Named for its toothed foliage, this will need winter protection unless it’s in a very charmed position. The similar L. x ginginsii, a lanata x dentata hybrid, has woollier foliage. 40cm

Tender lavenders

Tender lavenders need to be treated as bedding plants, but don’t discount them because they will flower outside from May until September. Keep them deadheaded, unless you want them to set seeds. Bring them in before the first frost and overwinter them in a heated greenhouse that doesn’t fall below 5C. They bear a candelabra-shaped head of flowers, held on three stems, and they often have pinnate foliage. If you prune, keep them on the dry side afterwards and keep watering to a minimum in winter.

General care of lavenders

Always give lavenders a sunny position that gets sun for most of the day, or grow them in pots.

Lavenders do not like wet winters, so the soil must be well drained because it’s waterlogged roots that kill lavenders and not frost.

Most lavenders require neutral to alkaline soil, although Lavandula stoechas subsp. stoechas (which always grows in acid soil in the wild) and to a lesser extent Lavandula x intermedia, can thrive in slightly acid soil.

If your soil is naturally good for growing rhododendrons and heathers add lime to raise the pH. About a handful per square metre in early spring should be sufficient. In heavy soil mix in grit when planting to improve drainage and plant on a slight mound.

A handful of bonemeal helps when planting. Space plants 45cm-90cm (18in-24in) apart when creating a hedge. Planting three in a border makes more impact. Water newly planted lavenders if it’s dry. After that they’ll be fine.

A sprinkling of potash or a potash-based fertiliser (such as Vitax Q4) around the base of plants will encourage more prolific flowering and improved flower colour. Don’t add manure or high nitrogen feed: it makes plants floppy and unhappy.

Growing lavenders in pots

Mix up one third each of soilless compost, John Innes No.2 or 3 and coarse grit. For feeding, pop in a plug or two of slow-release fertilizer, which should last all season.

Harvesting lavender

Most lavender for culinary use is harvested when in full coloured bud, before the individual flowers open.

Overwintering lavender

Tender and half-hardy lavenders and frost hardy lavenders grown in pots should be given protection in light, airy conditions. These plants need very little water from November to February. Wait until the pot is noticeably lighter or even until plants start to wilt and then water only on top of the compost. Never water over the foliage in winter. These plants find still, moist air rather unpleasant!


The harder lavenders are pruned, the longer they will last – but this is affected by hardiness.

Take insurance cuttings

Lavender roots easily from cutting material that’s beginning to harden up – although you might need to take off any flower of flower buds. Trim under a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves and plunge into small seed trays filled with moist, coarse horticultural sand. Pot up once rooted – into a mixture of grit and compost.

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