Lavender's purple haze

By Leigh Bramwell

In our garden, lavender is the new black. So don't come round here looking for black pansies - instead, you'll find lavenders waiting to be given their place in the sun.

I was never much of a fan of lavender. Any I planted went woody and dry-looking in a heartbeat, and its flowers in no way made up for its parched appearance.

Visiting lavender farms changed my mind, and this time I'm taking a more scientific approach, instead of just shoving twigs in the ground.

Lavenders want a well-drained soil that has full sun most of the day. They like their soil slightly alkaline, so adding lime well before planting is a good strategy. They'll tolerate cold winters, provided the soil doesn't get too wet. Some west coast growers have grass between their rows to take up the extra moisture.

Although they certainly don't mind it dry, lavenders can stress in drought conditions, which will affect the flower yield. They're also likely to be damaged by hot, dry, salty winds, so be wary if you're in a windy coastal area. Most lavenders suitable for home gardens come either from the Spica or Stoechas groups. The Spica group includes English lavenders (Lavendula angustifolia syn.

L spica), which have the best fragrance and flower madly in summer's heat. They're also quite frost hardy, which is helpful, and they're ideal for low hedges.

Stoechas-type lavenders have "rabbit ear" sterile bracts above the flowers. The most commonly grown are French lavender, Lavendula dentata, Spanish or Italian lavender (Lavendula stoechas) and many cultivars bred from these. They're scented, but not as scented as the English varieties.

My favourite is Ruffles Lavender Boysenberry, a gorgeous, fluffy, pinky-lilac lavender bred to ensure a compact, neat habit.

These grow quickly and are great in pots.

To grow lavenders in containers, use a quality potting mix that contains a controlled release fertiliser. Water daily in summer, infrequently in winter and give them an occasional liquid feed.

If you turn out to be good at growing lavender, take advantage of your success and dry it, encase it in sachets, make it into potpourri, or make lavender soaps and candles. Just gorgeous.

- The Aucklander

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