Lay In Some Lavender

Our early September has been surprisingly chilly. As in 48 degrees early this morning. My tropical plants in containers look insulted by the turn of events-both at home, and at the shop. I am not especially ready to give up my summer containers. I regret any face off with nature, as 100 percent of the odds are against me. We’ll see how long I can keep them going. The weather turning this quickly from summer in to fall has me thinking about plants that gracefully survive that transition. Rob planted a number of pots at the shop with lavender this spring. They were as tolerant of our cold April as they are of this chilly September. They are shrugging off the chill as if it were nothing more than a tiny blip on a very big screen. Maybe I need to lay in some lavender.

Lavender is an iconic garden plant treasured by gardeners world wide. The soft and subtle bluish green or gray foliage is topped by equally subtle flower stalks sporting diminutive flowers in white, lavender and purple. I hear tell of varieties that have pink flowers. The plant, and the plant blooming on thin stalks that wave in the breeze, is self effacing. Lavender speaks softly to the charm of a cottage garden. It speaks loudly to those precisely laid out fields of lavender in France and England. Even in pictures, those rows and rows of lavender blooming enchant. What is not subtle about lavender is the the strength of its fragrance. That powerful and unforgettable fragrance speaks to the garden in no uncertain terms. It speaks just as clearly to the romance that is the garden. I have seen countless pictures of American, English and French gardens planted with lavender. I imagine those gardens are all the more to experience, given that familiar and pungent fragrance.

I like romance in the garden, no matter what form it takes. This means I would plant lavender with a lavish hand-if I could. But as much as I like lavender, it does not like me, or my garden. My zone is the northern most range of its hardiness. Our poorly draining and intractably dense clay soil is a poor home for all of the cultivars of lavandula. Lavender thrives in a freely draining soil, especially in the winter. I have had individual plants thrive fore 5 years or better, as long as they were perfectly sited, and if I only pruned it in the spring. Late summer of fall pruning in my zone is an invitation to disaster. A dead lavender is heartbreaking. I know. Several attempts at borders or drifts of lavender in my garden invariably resulted in random failures. My hedges always had holes, and replacement plants were never the size I needed. I was young when I pulled out all the stops trying to get lavender to thrive in my garden. Though the idea is intoxicating to this gardener, I never plant it in in the garden now. I find that lavender is much happier in my zone in containers.

Rob plants no end of containers with lavender in the spring. It is very tolerant of the cold weather that accompanies the spring. Some of his summer containers that were not snapped up in the spring feature lavender that had been planted very early in the season. All summer long, that lavender prospered. The chilly early fall weather has not endangered any of those plants.  For gardeners looking for container plants to span the spring, summer, and fall season, you might consider lavender.

Rob likes lavender well enough to plant pots full of it. He buys 1 and 2 gallon pots of it in the spring by the truckloads, as well as lavender trained in to topiary forms. Every pot looks good, loaded with lavender.

Lavender and thyme like similar planting conditions, and do well in a pot together. This subtle and restrained planting reward anyone brushing by. The fragrance of lavender and thyme mixed together is delightful.

This lead container had a pussy willow centerpiece, lavender, pansies and ivy planted in it for spring.  When I came to do the summer pots in late June, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of all that lavender thriving.  This particular cultivar is called Grosso.

A client who was opening a restaurant loved Rob’s idea to plant wood crates and pots full of lavender. This container planting will have a very long life. I suspect it will look great long into the fall.

These containers looked beautiful-today. Though planting lavender directly into my garden has never worked out very well, these pots of lavender and thyme are entirely satisfactory. So pleased to have a little lavender in my gardening life. To follow are pictures of lavender that make my heart beat faster. Click on what is written below each picture for details and pictures credits.

  Lavender “Grosso”   

lavender “Phenomenal” from Peace Tree Farms 

lavender angustifolia “Munstead” from RHS plants

lavender “Provence” from Annie’s Annuals and Perennials

Lavender “Platinum Blonde” from American Nurseryman Magazine

lavender “Anouk” from American Meadows

There are so many varieties of lavender available. Make a place somewhere for this plant. You will appreciate the romance.

Interested in a good overview?

A more detailed discussion of lavender

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Comments

  1. The lavender grosso planted in DGW Italian pots this season — my greatest joy !! Thank you for making us so happy.

  2. Thanks for the tips! I have never had much luck keeping lavender alive in the ground. I will give it a try this coming spring in containers. Yours look gorgeous.

  3. Carol Murray says:

    I’ve planted Provence along the top of a wall just off my front porch. I’m in PA. It’s grown exponentially this year and seems happy as a clam. We like to sit on the front porch when it rains. I did not expect that the rain falling on the plants would release their fragrance. Not strong grab-a-handful but just a subtle little bit of lavender fragrance wafting by as we sit with a glass of wine and listen to the rain. I’m very happy with it and hope that it continues to prosper. I will add more next spring.

  4. Planted 4 huge lavender in my garden this spring- and they are thriving.
    Fingers crossed they’re back next year after a MN winter!

  5. Totally agree. And equally tough, fragrant and beautiful would be Rosemary, some of the prostrate forms blossoming all summer long, getting better the later it gets. And it makes a spectacular hanging plant – we get 2 feet down our walls in one season here on Virginia. Again, virtually all varieties would be container plants in your neck of the woods, but Oh so worthwhile! (Not to mention have more uses in the kitchen!)

  6. Deborah, Phenomenal lavender is much hardier than others so maybe worth a try. Also since drainage is so critical I think you would have luck with a raised bed of maybe 3/16″ gravel, and cover the plants with plastic sheeting for the winter. It takes regular watering the first season growing in gravel but once established, Mediterranean type plants like sage thyme and rosemary do great. If a regular bed is better drained than your clay, then the thing that has helped me overwinter lavender and also get earlier leaves and blooms is covering it with clear plastic sheeting, held up off the plant with hoops, with a layer of row cover directly over the plants Elliott Coleman is able to get three zones warmer by using multiple layers in a mini hoop setup ( for vegetables) and he is in Maine. It is not just the warmth…keeping the ground dry via the plastic is very helpful for preventing root rot, so also helps winter survival of thyme and sage, I find…my Arp rosemary is in its third winter with this approach in zone 6. Branches died where the plastic touched the plant.

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Chris, I have heard that “Phenomenal” is incredibly hardy.I did plant it for a client who specifically asked for lavender-so far, so good. Thanks for your description of how you keep your Mediterranean plants going-very interesting. all the best, Deborah

  7. Cathy Peterson says:

    Beautiful. . . . can the potted plants overwinter inside or no?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Cathy, a local greenhouse winters over some of my lavender plants in an unheated but light space. I have not tried to keep them in the house. best, Deborah

      • In terms of in-house overwintering — they can be a little tricky in the house. Oddly, the dry heat of homes can be very hard on rosemary and they sometimes drop their needles overwintering in the house– If possible, I would say a space that is 40 to 60 degrees or so (maybe an enclosed porch that warms a little in the sun or a room in the house where you can turn off the heat) would be good. Plants are more uncomplicated to care for in the 45-50 range than in hot dry houses. Also water exceedingly sparingly — they will do better neglected than weekly watered. If the room is dark, use fluorescent lights to up the light level.

        • Deborah Silver says:

          Dear Chris, thanks for the advice. I have a personal rule-no plants in the house in the winter. I actually like getting away from them for a bit! Greenhouse people can be willing to overwinter plants in a cold space such as you suggest-for a fee, of course. And no guarantee of the outcome.But if it is a treasured plant, it might be worth it. best, Deborah

          • I was trying responding to Cathy’s questions about overwintering lavender (I said rosemary) question – I should have clicked under her name, sorry. Overwintering services here seem to be limited to one at some distance away, likely due to very high energy costs around here. An unheated garage with a pink rigid foam insulated “cave” seems to give about a 2 zone gain if the plants go in with roots that are not too moist. I’m zone 6 so plants up to zone 8 — cordyline, elephant’s ears – make it through okay. BUT is the condition they make it through in acceptable for immediate or prime area display? Often only for secondary areas, and often with some weeks of shaping up.

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