For the love of lavender
Lavender is one of those plants that everybody seems to love. Since ancient times it has been highly prized for its fragrance, for the powerful medicinal and healing properties of the oil and, of course, for the pretty flowers and foliage.
It can be used for treating wounds and skin ailments, relieving headaches, repelling insects, freshening rooms and laundry, as well as in tea and dozens of other household uses. Oh, and it looks just lovely.
Fortunately, plant breeders have invested plenty of time and energy into developing varieties that will be more tolerant of our climate, with high rainfall and long, humid summers. So there are plenty of varieties that will do well here, at least for a few years, if you provide the right conditions - sunny and well-drained with plenty of air movement.
L pedunculata (sometimes called Spanish lavender) is the parent of some of the best varieties for the home garden.
The "Sensation" series has been bred in Australia to tolerate a range of conditions, including heat and humidity as well as light frost. Growing to about 80cm tall, they have large, showy flowers in different colours, including rose, blue, purple and white.
Lavandula dentata (French lavender) is one of the most popular and hardy of all varieties. The soft grey leaves have distinctive rounded indentations along the edges. The flowers are a beautiful soft purple and it can get to 1.5m tall.
Another great variety for our climate is "Avonview", which has been bred from Lavandula stoechas. It has deep-purple flowers and grows to about 80cm.
Once established, lavender is relatively maintenance-free. Apart from occasional watering during dry periods, it will endure tough conditions and require only a once-a-year trim to keep it neat and encourage abundant new growth.
Lavender is an essential in the herb garden and looks lovely in a cottage garden. It grows well with roses, geraniums, verbenas and petunias. It's great for attracting bees and other beneficial insects, so it's a good plant to have near your orchard or vegetable garden.
A well-tended lavender plant will last for about five years in our climate.