Native to the Mediterranean region, lavender is prized for its showy, fragrant, lavender or purple flowers. The blossom spikes of some species are used for perfume, aromatic oil, soap, sachets, medicine, and flavoring. Narrow, aromatic, blue-green or gray-green foliage is a hallmark.
Unfortunately, the South's hot, humid climate and heavy soils don't suit most lavenders at all. English lavender (L. angustifolia), considered by many the most desirable species, is also the most problematic in Southern gardens. Poor drainage, wet winters, and high humidity often lead to rot and quick demise. Success depends on planting in gravelly, fast-draining soil that contains few nutrients. Do not fertilize. To reduce humidity around plants, mulch with gravel. To keep plants neat and compact, shear back by one-third to one-half every year just after bloom. If they become woody and open in the center, remove a few of the oldest branches; take out more when new growth comes.
To dry flowers for sachets and potpourri, cut the spikes or strip blossoms from stems just as they show color; dry in a cool, shady place. Dried flowers can also be used to add a fresh scent to water or soap. Dried spikes make fragrant wreaths, swags, and wands. To flavor ice cream, pastries, and salads, use fresh flowers of L. angustifolia and L. intermedia selections; other species contain toxic chemicals that should not be ingested.
Because lavenders have been cultivated for centuries and tend to interbreed, many selections and hybrids have arisen. Names are often confused, so some of the names that follow may not agree with those you see on nursery labels. Be aware that only cutting-grown plants are uniform; seed-grown strains vary in color and growth habit. Deer do not care for lavender.
L. angustifolia (L. officinalis, L. vera). ENGLISH LAVENDER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. This is the sweetly fragrant lavender used for perfume and sachets. Common name notwithstanding, it is native to southern Europe. It's the hardiest, most widely planted species. Most selections are low growing, forming mounds of foliage from 8 in. to 2 ft. high and wide. Narrow, smooth-edged, gray-green or silvery gray leaves to 2 in. long. Unbranched flower stems rise 412 in. above foliage, topped with 1- to 4-in.-long spikes of flowers in white, pink, lavender-blue, or various shades of purple. Blooms mainly from early to mid-summer, but some selections repeat in late summer or fall. Named selections include the following.
'Alba'. To 12 ft. high and wide. Pure white flowers, gray-green foliage.
'Blue Cushion'. To 1 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide. Profuse bright violet-blue flowers above medium green foliage.
'Compacta'. To 1 ft. high and wide; good dwarf hedge plant. Light violet flowers; gray-green leaves.
'Dwarf Blue'('Nana'). Slow growing to 1 ft. high, 16 in. wide. Stiff lavender-blue flower spikes in midsummer; gray foliage. Ideal for rock garden or edging. Somewhat hardier than most other English lavenders.
'Ellagance Purple'. To 1 ft. tall and wide. Generous bloom of purple flowers. Gray-green foliage.
'England'. To 1 ft. high, 15 in. wide. Light violet-blue flowers; downy, silvery foliage.
'Gray Lady'. To 2 ft. tall and wide. Lavender-blue flowers; gray foliage.
'Hidcote'. The original had deep violet flowers and medium green leaves on a plant 12 ft. tall. The plants sold under this name today are frequently grown from seed; they may bear gray foliage and/or vary in size from the original. 'Hidcote Blue' (with deep blue flowers) and 'Hidcote Superior' (compact, uniform, 16 in. high and 18 in. wide) are popular selections.
'Irene Doyle'. To 12 ft. high and wide, with gray-green leaves. Light violet flowers bloom in early summer and give a repeat performance in late summer.
'Lady' ('Cambridge Lady', 'Lavender Lady'). Seed-grown strain that blooms in 3 months from spring-sown seed. Gray-green foliage. Very short spikes of lavender-blue flowers on a plant 11 ft. high and wide; some variation in flower color and growth habit.
'Martha Roderick'. Compact growth to 12 ft. high and wide. Dense gray foliage. Bright violet-blue blossoms in great abundance from late spring to early summer.
'Melissa'. Dense, compact grower to 1 ft. high and wide. Good pink flower color, fading to white in hottest sun. Gray-green leaves.
'Munstead'. The original is 1 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide, with bright lavender-blue flowers and medium green foliage. Long bloomer; makes a good low hedge. Quite variable when grown from seed.
'Nana Alba'. White-flowered version of 'Dwarf Blue'.
'Premier'. To 2 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Long-stemmed, airy, dark purple to violet blooms. Good cut flower.
'Rosea' ('Jean Davis'). 'To 1 2 ft. high and wide. Pale lilac-pink flowers; gray-green foliage.
'Sharon Roberts'. Semiopen growth a little over 2 ft. high and to 2 ft. wide. Profuse show of bright violet-blue flowers begins in late spring, often repeats in fall. Medium green to gray-green foliage.
'Thumbelina Leigh'. Very compact mound of medium green leaves to just 6 in. high and 12 in. wide. Bright violet-blue flowers rise 6 in. above foliage.
L. dentata. FRENCH LAVENDER, TOOTHED LAVENDER. Zones LS, CS; USDA 8-9. To 34 ft. tall, 46 ft. wide. Narrow green or gray-green leaves are 1 in. long, in. wide, with square-toothed edges. Purple flowers in short, rounded spikes, each topped with a pair of flaglike bracts that look like rabbit ears. Long spring-into-summer flowering period; almost year-round in mild-winter areas. Takes humidity better than L. angustifolia. Should be treated as a tender perennial in Upper and Middle South; pot up and bring indoors for winter. 'Linda Ligon' has smaller leaves with irregular creamy white variegation. L. d. candicans ('French Gray') has grayer, somewhat larger leaves than the species, with dense grayish white down onyoung foliage.
L. x ginginsii 'Goodwin Creek Grey'. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Most likely a hybrid between L. lanata and L. dentata. This densely foliaged plant grows to 23 ft. high and 34 ft. wide, with silvery leaves that are toothed at tips. Deep violet-blue flowers from spring to late fall; virtually year-round in mild-winter climates. More tolerant of heat and humidity.
L. xintermedia. LAVANDIN, HEDGE LAVENDER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. This group of sterile hybrids between parents L. angustifolia and L. latifolia is distinguished from English lavender by larger growth and by branching stems topped with interrupted flower spikes; blooms from mid- to late summer. Long used in the perfume and soap industries, lavandins are vigorous, fragrant plants, almost as hardy as L. angustifolia and more tolerant of warm, humid summers. They include the following selections.
'Abrialii'. Once the mainstay of the French lavender oil industry. Grows to 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide, with gray-green foliage. Dark violet-blue blossoms in narrow, conical, 3- to 5-in.-long spikes are excellent for drying.
'Alba' ('White Spikes'). To 2 ft. high and wide, with silvery leaves. Spikes of white blossoms and sage green calyxes are 12 in. long, bloom from early summer through fall. Becomes woody with age.
'Dutch'. To 3 ft. tall and 2 2 ft. wide, with gray foliage. Few-branched stems topped with narrow, conical, 2- to 3-in. spikes of flowers in deep blue-violet. Most common selection in U.S.
'Fred Boutin'. To 34 ft. tall and wide. Dense, silvery gray foliage topped in early to midsummer with 1- to 3-in.-long spikes of violet-blue blossoms on unbranched stems.
'Grey Hedge'. To 3 ft. or more in height and width. Dense foliage in a very silvery gray; profuse lavender-blue flowers on few-branched stems. Makes an excellent rounded or square-sheared hedge; set plants 2 ft. apart.
'Grosso'. Widely planted commercial selection in France and Italy; possibly the most fragrant lavandin of all. Compact growth to 2 ft. high and wide. Silvery foliage; large (to 3-in.-long), conical spikes of violet-blue flowers with darker calyxes. Often gives repeat bloom in late summer. Excellent flower for drying.
'Hidcote Giant'. To 2 ft. high and 3 ft. wide, with gray-green foliage. Stout stems topped by fat spikes of vivid violet-blue flowers.
'Phenomenal'. To 3 ft. high and wide. Very fragrant, violet-blue flowers held high atop aromatic silvery green foliage. Seedling of 'Grosso'. Very disease resistant and well adapted to warm, humid climates. Has performed well as far south as Florida. Good drainage is essential.
'Provence'. Though it is often described as a traditional perfume lavandin, this selection does not produce the kind of oil that is used in perfumery. Grows to 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide, with fragrant, light violet flower spikes that dry well. Good hedge plant.
'Thumbelina Leigh'. Compact mound of green leaves, 6 in. high and 12 in. wide. Bright violet-blue flowers.
L. latifolia (L. spica). SPIKE LAVENDER, BROADLEAF LAVENDER. Zones US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Compact growth to 3 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide, with gray-green leaves to 3 in. long, in. wide; resembles L. angustifolia. Slender, widely branching flower stems support interrupted spikes 1 4 in. long; blossoms range from soft mauve to bright violet-blue, with woolly gray calyxes tipped in violet. Blooms in late summer.
L. stoechas. SPANISH LAVENDER. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Includes several subspecies, all stocky plants 13 ft. tall and wide, with narrow gray or gray-green, - to 1-in.-long leaves. Small flowers are typically blackish maroon, borne on short, fat, 2-in. spikes topped by two to four flaglike bracts resembling rabbit ears; bracts come in assorted shades of purple and pink. Blossoms open first in four vertical rows, evenly spaced around the spike; then rest of spike fills in with flowers. Blooms from spring into summer; often repeats if sheared. Flower stem length varies from 1 in. to 8 in. or more. Very drought resistant. Takes heat and humidity better than other species but is not as fragrant; best choice for Lower and Coastal South. Seeds profusely; can be invasive; bracts come in white and assorted shades of purple and pink. Named forms include the following.
'Anouk'. Compact to 2 ft. high and over 6 ft. wide. Purple spikes topped with wavy, lighter colored bracts. Hardy.
'Bella White'. Dense growth to about 2 ft. tall, 20 in. wide, with gray-green leaves. Pure white flowers held on short, sturdy stems appear in spring and fall.
'Hazel'. To 2 ft. high, 2 ft. wide. Dense, sturdy mound of gray-green foliage is topped by darkest purple flowers and bright violet bracts. Heavy bloom in spring, modest autumn rebloom.
'Kew Red'. Grows 34 ft. tall and wide, with aromatic gray-green foliage. Reddish violet flowers have pink bracts, peak in spring and fall but bloom nearly all year in mild climates.
'Otto Quast'. To 2 ft. high or a bit more, 23 ft. wide. Flower stems 23 in. long, with maroon blossoms and red-purple bracts. Medium green to gray-green leaves. Plants sold under this name are usually grown from seed and often are shorter than the plant just described, with shorter flower stalks.
Ruffles series. These grow 2 ft. high and wide and flower about 2 weeks earlier than other Spanish lavenders. All the following are variations on the pink to lavender-pink theme: 'Blueberry Ruffles', 'Boysenberry Ruffles', 'Mulberry Ruffles', and 'Sugarberry Ruffles'.
'Willow Vale'. Vigorous, upright, to 1 ft. tall and wide. Wispy gray-green leaves; deep blue-violet flowers and bluish purple bracts. Short (1- to 2-in.) flower stems.
'Wings of Night'. Heavy bloomer resembles 'Otto Quast' but has a broader habit.
'Winter Bee'. About 2 ft. high, with equal or greater spread. Gray-green foliage. Dark purple flowers and lavender bracts appear in early spring, about 3 weeks earlier than those of other Spanish lavenders. Blooms are long lasting.
L. s. pedunculata. Zones MS, LS, CS; USDA 7-9. Taller than other forms, with longer flower stems. Green or gray-green foliage. Its selection 'Atlas' grows 23 ft. tall, about as wide, with 7- to 14-in. flower stalks and vibrant red-violet bracts.