A little bit about lavender
A member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family, lavender is a hardy plant best known for its beautiful fragrance. It’s a low-growing but mostly upright shrub featuring silvery leaves rich with aromatic oils. Lavender is a great, low-maintenance choice as it’ll flush into fragrant, colourful bloom with very little attention.
Lavender flowers in a range of shades, from pink and purple to off-white depending on the variety, and can flower for much of the year.
Botanical name: Lavandula
Height: Between 30 and 60 centimetres
Width: Usually less than 60 centimetres, but occasionally extends to one metre.
There are three main lavender varieties: English, French and Italian/Spanish.
Of all the lavender varieties, English lavender (often referred to as true lavender) is the most popular, thanks to its remarkable scent and colour. Its peak flowering season is midsummer but its aromatic leaves are fragrant year round. You can make the most of its long spikes by drying them or turning them into potpourri. One of the best known English lavenders is Hidcote, which grows well in cool, mountainous areas like New South Wales’ Southern Highlands and Sydney’s outer western suburbs.
Just as popular as English lavender, French lavender billows with strong-scented, grey-green toothed leaves and long, furry, purple flowers. French lavender is particularly happy in a pot, as a hedge and can also be mass planted.
This variety is distinguished by its flowers. Each bloom (in mauve, pink or white) is topped with a distinctive pair of petals which look like rabbit ears. Unlike other varieties, Spanish/Italian lavender doesn’t mind humid Sydney summers. Two beautiful and popular examples of this type of lavender are Lavender Avonview (pictured left) and Lavender With Love.
Best lavender for Sydney’s climate
Due to its Mediterranean origins, lavender likes hot summers and dry winters. If you haven’t had much luck with lavender, we recommend Super French, a variety that’s bred from French lavender but is more tolerant of Sydney’s humidity. If you like the look of Spanish/Italian lavender, you’ll love stoechas varieties like ‘Avonview’ and ‘Lace’. Both are bred from Italian/Spanish lavender in Australia and relish our humidity.
How to use lavender
Gardeners and landscapers grow highly versatile lavender as an ornamental plant, but it’s also grown as a culinary plant and for the commercial extract of essential oils. You can also dry the flower spikes for use in arrangements or to place in linen pouches - not only does this help to keep drawers and cupboards smelling fresh, it's also a great way to help deter moths.
Lavender is a great choice for coastal, cottage or rockery gardens and can make a striking impact when mass-planted. Try growing it as an informal hedge, a specimen plant or near your veggie patch to attract bees. If you'd like to learn more about attracting bees to your garden, click here.
Caring for lavender
The ideal position for lavender
Your lavender plant will perform best in a bright, full-sun position. Plant in dry, well-drained, sandy or gravelly soil where it can enjoy good air circulation. Not sure what type of soil you have? This article will help you work it out!
Once established, lavender requires little water - so if your garden doesn't have excellent drainage, be careful not to overdo it. All varieties of lavender hate wet feet.
Cut off dead flowers to help prolong flowering periods. Prune plants after the main summer flowering period to keep them looking tidy and dense. If needed, you can do a harder prune (by about one third), however don’t go past the green foliage and into the older wood as these branches don’t always recover and can leave unsightly gaps and patches in your plant.
If you've planted your lavender in a garden bed, fertilise it with well-decomposed compost and a little garden lime in spring and autumn to encourage flowering. For potted varieties, you should feed with a slow-release fertiliser twice a year in spring and autumn.
Pests and diseases
In areas of high humidity or where a plant is overwatered, root rot due to fungus infection can be a problem. Organic mulches can trap moisture around the base of the plant, also encouraging root rot. To prevent root rot, avoid mulching and plant your lavender on a slight mound, to encourage drainage.
Lavender is rarely attacked by pests, however whitefly, aphids and scale can creep in when the plant is under stress. Look out for these pests and spray with pyrethrum to control whitefly and aphids, or try eco-oil as an organic alternative to control of aphids, whitefly and scale.