Who can live without Lavender?

Well, thanks to global events, we’ve not made it to Provence this year and so my French fix of lavender just hasn’t happened. If push came to shove, lavender would probably be my desert island plant. It lifts my spirit like no other. Whether it be the year round blue grey foliage, the heady scent on a summer’s evening, the long flowering season  or the pleasing clipping of the plants into neat domes as winter approaches, there is no real downside. Similarly, there is no bad lavender variety although, for me, living in the North of England, French lavender is just not a possibility. I have planted it many times and lost it the following winter. Although theoretically I might be able to keep it in pots, this too has eluded me so although I could treat it as summer bedding, I have sadly just come to the conclusion that it is not for me. 

Since our garden largely has a base of clay, it has taken some time to find suitable areas where any lavender flourishes, let alone survives. It needs great drainage and loathes having it’s roots in damp, cold soil. About five years ago we had some new steps built from the drive into the garden. The house and drive sit at a slightly lower level and when we moved here there were two sets of narrow steps, one each side of the drive. Whilst these were alright, it did mean that from the house, there was very little view of the garden, further hampered by a row of mature shrubs. So, as part of a revamp of the drive, we removed both sets of steps and built some central, wider steps reclaimed sandstone, bordered by some lovely silver grey reclaimed sleeper walls. Finally, this gave us somewhere to try a swathe of lavender so we chose Munstead (named of course after Gertrude Jekyll’s house). This planting hasn’t gone entirely without a hitch as we have suffered some wet winters and still had to replace two or three but finally, they have matured and are looking great. I’m up and down these steps many times a day, so these beauties give me constant pleasure, and never more so than when a golden sunset makes them glow in the evening light. For a bit of prolonged lavender enjoyment combined with practicality I often place candles in jars, two to a step, on summer evenings so friends have their path lit after a convivial evening of dinner in the garden.

Buoyed by our lavender success, last year we re-planted the wall at the front of the house with a hedge of Hidcote lavender. This wall has really dreadful soil in it and simply retains no real moisture at all but I can report that this summer, it is looking gorgeously glorious! It is a much more welcoming prospect for visitors to the house than the sad selection of mixed planting that was there previously. Aside from these two areas, I have one lone white lavender that seems to be clinging to life in the white bed but otherwise, just a few scattered around in pots. Because I’m a bit lazy and never seem to have the time to replant all my pots with appropriate seasonal planting in the style of Monty Don, I have a few taller things, notably a pair of standard olive trees which are underplanted with lavender and this seems to be a simple, year round pleasing combination. 

The only problem that remains is – do I harvest the flowers for use in the house or do I let the seed fall into the cracks of the steps, where they germinate in the most unlikely of situations? I think this year, the answer is easy – next spring I am planning to sow the cracks in the steps with erigeron  karvinskianus (Mexican fleabane) in the style of the National Trust steps at Sizergh Castle so those lavender flowers might just make it inside this year!

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