Lavenders I have known

Tom Wajda
Adams County Master Gardener

There are more than 300 varieties of hardy lavender available today, so it is no surprise that gardeners have a difficult time choosing the right ones for their particular situation and taste. Over the past ten years, we have grown more than 100 varieties at our farm in Fairfield; some do especially well in Adams county's climate and soils.

Except as otherwise noted, my "Top Ten" list is made up of the L. angustifolia (narrow leaf) species sometimes called English lavender. We have found that the angustifolias are much hardier than the larger-leafed L xintermdedias (also called lavandins); this species, which includes Provence, Grosso, Dutch, and Grapenhall, among others, seems ill-suited for our winters.

Hidcote - A favorite for more than 80 years, Hidcote has superb dark blue blossoms and is the hardiest lavender in our garden. It has a great fragrance and dries well for craft or culinary uses. It grows to 18-20 inches high and wide. Flowers are on 7-8 inch stems. It makes a lovely hedge.

Delphinensis - An angustifolia subspecies, Delphinensis has deep blue flowers on 9-10 inch stems. One of the earliest bloomers, it is excellent for drying. Rarely available.

Croxton's Wild - Planted in groups of four or five, Croxton's Wild lends a shimmering light-blue accent to the garden. The blossoms have good fragrance and are excellent cut flowers. However, they are not recommended for drying.

Martha Roderick - This little-known variety is a good choice for container gardening as it grows only about 15 inches high. With strong purple blossoms and greyish leaves, it makes a statement on the patio or porch.

Munstead - Another old favorite, Munstead has medium purple blossoms with a slight pink tint. It dries well and has an excellent aroma. Unfortunately, plants sold as Munstead often are grown from seed. (Lavenders do not always "come true" from seed, so the resulting plants often differ from the original. To ensure you are getting the lavender you want, insist on plants grown from cuttings.)

Spike (L. spicata) - Spike lavender is the only member of the spicata genus; it has proved to be much hardier than the various intermedias we have grown. Spike grows to about 30 inches and has blue flowers on 16-18 inch stems that are ideal for making lavender wands. It blooms in July, about a month later than the other varieties listed here: it often stays in bloom until frost.

Hidcote Giant - All of the beauty of regular Hidcote but on 12-14 inch flower stems. The blossoms are not quite as prolific as some of the other angustifolias and the plant is less compact than its namesake. Good for drying. Hard to find.

Nana Atropurpurea - Nana (dwarf) grows only 12-15 inches high, but makes up for its size with stunning purple blossoms. It is a good plant for containers and also for a low-growing perennial border.

Jean Davis - Growers continue to search for the perfect pink lavender. In the meantime, Jean Davis fills the bill very nicely. Its light pink blossoms are produced on a fairly rounded 20 inch plant. It is a good fresh cut flower, but does not dry well. Sometimes confused with and sold as Rosea.

Madeline Marie, Rebecca Kay, Two Amys - Developed in Adams county, these three varieties all bloom in June and then have superb second blooms beginning in mid-August. Madeline Marie is a medium-sized plant with blue blossoms and grey leaves. Rebecca Kay is a more robust variety growing to 22 inches. It has purple blossoms and grey leaves. Two Amys is the smallest of the three measuring in at 15-16 inches. Its blossoms are blue and its leaves green.

Whatever your variety preference, there are three basic rules for growing lovely lavenders. First, although lavender will do all right with six hours of sun a day, it needs full sun to achieve its true potential. Plant it in as open an area as possible. Second, lavender wants good drainage. If you have poor drainage, try planting it on a somewhat raised (7-10 inches) mound. Finally, lavender needs a pH in the 7.0-7.3 range. Most of our soils are in the 6.0-6.5 range; the pH level can be raised by the application of lime. Test kits to help you determine how much lime is needed are available at most nurseries; they are of varying quality. Soil sample kits available at the Penn State Extension Office will give you a thorough analysis for a very reasonable price.

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