Good old Lavender is a reliable plant and easy to keep looking tidy. It hardly needs any introduction, being widely used in gardens, parks and green spots around town. There was a time when fashionable opinion considered lavender to be an old people's plant, which is just another way of saying that it was used by our grandparent's grandparents, back into the mists of time.
The advent of the booming essential oil and aromatherapy industries has changed all that and lavender is firmly back in fashion, prompting people to plant it again so that they can have their own supply of fragrant cuttings at hand. While lavender looks just fine sitting by itself and is well suited to container growing, it is so nice to see it being used more creatively, to its full potential.
You can plant lavender to achieve a variety of effects in your garden, where it can add structure, create a decorative boundary, improve pollination or become the one of the evergreen elements of a wild country flower bed. Here are five simple ways to get the most from your plants:
Around a Rose Bed: This is an absolutely classic place to plant lavender and no formal garden of a hundred years ago would be without one. The beauty of a rose is all at the flowering end and they usually have quite bare legs. Lavender is the perfect height to cover them up and, as you admire the roses above, its silvery foliage creates a misty foundation.
You can either plant the lavender around the border of the bed to neatly mark it off or create a patch of lavender, giving each rose getting about 50-60 centimetres, 24 inches, of space to itself.
With Paving Slabs, Walls and Other Stones: Despite being necessary for building just about anything, straight lines don't look natural and, in the garden at any rate, most people think that it is best to merge them with the organic, smooth shapes of some well chosen plants.
Lavender has a rounded form that is ideal for covering up the edges of paving slabs or the base of the sunny side of a stone wall (it can even be planted along the top, if the wall was built for it). In the wild, lavender is often found in very rocky, sometimes high up places and is also a great plant to use in a large rockery features.
As a Decorative Hedge: Though it will never keep an intruder out (unless the trespasser is a tortoise), a lavender hedge has great ornamental value and a garden path lined on either side with rows of lavender in full bloom creates its own movie moment - walking along the path with the summer sun on your face, hands outstretched to brush the tips of the flowering spikes, possibly in slow motion with classical music playing. Larger species will reach about 1.5 metres, 5 feet, which is enough to hide a compost heap or keep the children out of sight!
The Wild Country Garden: The essence of this type of gardening is to produce an informal riot of colour that is low maintenance, has loads of flowers packed close together and which provides a source of valuable herbs.
Lavender ticks all three boxes and its habit of low foliage growth combined with tall flowering stems means that it won't get in the way of even really small, delicate plants. A lot of popular plants for this category, like lupins or foxgloves, die back each year and so it is important to have some evergreen plants to stop the ground becoming bare in winter.
Around Your Orchard or Vegetable Plot: This is a functional, rather than strictly decorative use of lavender, although there is no reason not to add a splash more colour to your working garden. Almost all top fruit, soft fruit and a lot of vegetables will benefit from being cross-pollinated with their neighbours.
Everything that you can do to attract pollinating insects in general and bees in particular to your plants will pay off with bigger crops of better fruit and veg. Out in the country this is usually less of an issue, as there is often a beekeeper nearby and more wild bees about, but in the city it can make a big difference - I have seen people hang boxes of lavender over the edge of their balcony or roof gardens to entice bees up to them (it works!).
It really makes sense to have lavender around and not just because it looks good; you can use it sparingly in the kitchen as a herb, stuff your cupboards with it to make your laundry smell nice or chuck it in your bath for a relaxing soak - whatever you like to do with it, there is a way that lavender can save you from going to the shops and spending money!
So, if you decide to use more of it in the garden, why not make it part of a feature that gets people talking? Lavender should be planted between late March and July.
Anna Stenning investigates the revival of lavender plants and how lavender has become fashionable again.