Lavender is one of the most versatile plants around, not only for its benefits and uses, but also for its signature scent and beautiful flowers.
Even if you don’t happen to notice them at first glance, your nose will recognize them.
They’re perfect both for indoors and in the garden, especially if you want a highly fragrant garden in the warmest nights of summer.
Lavender also produces some of the most true purple flowers you’ll find, and it helps that these plants are very easy to grow, and very long-lived.
Here’s everything you should know about lavenders, what type to choose, how you grow it indoors or outdoors, and the many beneficial uses you can take advantage of.
Lavender At A Glance
All types of lavender belong to a genus of roughly 47 plants called Lavandula, in the mint plant family, Lamiaceae.
While most species are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, lavender has found popularity all over the world.
The History Behind Lavender
One of the earliest records of lavender was by Dioscorides, somewhere between 40-90 A.D. It was used as a plant to heal, as well as a cornerstone in the communal baths of Rome.
Dioscorides said that lavender could be used to invigorate the body, using it as a tea for chest problems. This gives you some idea of how long lavender has existed, and how long we’ve been using it for other purposes besides ornamental.
The name lavender is derived from the Old French word lavandre, and that comes from the Latin lavare, which translates ‘to wash’.
How to Recognize Lavender
While there are variations between the different types of lavender, they have many things in common. The most obvious commonality is in the fragrance.
The oils within the plant are responsible for the instantly recognizable fragrance of lavender.
If the scent isn’t immediately obvious, crush a leaf between your nails, which releases the oils. If it’s not lavender, it won’t smell.
The foliage of a lavender plant is either a vibrant green, or a silvery-gray.
Nearly all produce purple, lilac or blue flowers, but some newer varieties do produce white flowers.
The size of the flowers depends on the variety. Some have tiny clusters of flowers, while others have much bigger blooms.
The Different Types of Lavender You Can Grow
There are many types of lavender to choose from, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here’s some of the most common types to get you started.
It is worth noting that the names which are widely used, ‘English’ ‘French’ and ‘Spanish’ lavender are used somewhat interchangeably, so if in doubt, use the Latin name.
Lavandula Stoechas: Spanish Lavenders
Spanish lavender plants feature some of the largest and most interesting flowers available. They adore hot and dry conditions, but they can also withstand some humidity.
Also known as butterfly lavender, this gorgeous variety produces plump clusters of tiny purple flower heads, which are crowned with huge white petals at the top.
These white flowers mature into shades of purple or pink, and given the right conditions, it will flower from late spring into late summer, sometimes earlier depending on the weather.
It’s also highly scented.
‘Kew Red’ is similar to the ‘Ballerina’ variety in that it produces generous flower heads which have different-colored bracts on the top.
This particular variety boasts clusters of deep crimson-pink flowers, which are finished off with pale pink petals at the top, and these eventually fade to white.
This is a highly-scented lavender, and it’s perfect if you want a more unusual type of lavender.
This is a sun-loving lavender, and isn’t fussy about the soil type, as long as it drains very well.
An extremely hardy type of lavender, Anouk has dark purple clusters of flowers, topped with light purple bracts which mature into a soft pink.
You may also hear it called French lavender, Spanish lavender, Bract lavender, or Butterfly lavender, confusingly.
Anouk is perfect for dry soil and full sun, especially poorer soil. It can also be used as a hedge in summer.
This variety of lavender features bright green leaves, and clusters of blue flower heads, crowned with pink or light purple bracts.
Regal Splendor is highly fragranced, and blooms nearly continuously through spring to the later days of summer.
Also known as French lavender, ‘Fathead’ is a dwarf shrub lavender, featuring oval heads packed with tiny purple flowers, topped with purple bracts.
This type of lavender needs to be at the front of a border, where it can get the most sun possible.
Lavandula Angustifolia: English Lavenders
Also known as garden lavender, common lavender, true lavender, and English lavender, this type of lavender is native to the Mediterranean, and features long, narrow leaves.
The lavender under this name grows much taller than those varieties belonging to Lavandula Stoechas, making it suitable for hedges.
The reason why Lavandula Angustifolia is referred to as English lavender though it’s not native to England is because this type of lavender was one of the main ingredients in perfume, used for the royalty of England.
The scent is also noticeably different from French lavender, where it features a much lighter fragrance, containing less of a woody note.
‘Miss Katherine’ is an eye-catching shrub which can reach up to 75cm tall.
It features silvery leaves, and produces spikes of tiny baby pink flowers in summer, which will contrast any planting scheme nicely.
It needs full sun and well-draining soil to survive.
A dwarf type of English lavender, ‘Little Lottie’ features dark gray-green leaves, and produces pale pink flowers.
It will reach a maximum height of 30cm, making it perfect for marking the edge of borders, while still allowing access to the plants behind it.
This variety has won many awards, including the Royal Horticultural Society AGM. It’s also known as Lavandula angustifolia ‘Clarmo’, and it’s highly scented.
One of the most vibrant varieties, ‘Royal Purple’ is perfect for a hedge or as part of a mixed border.
Because it’s a long-stemmed variety, it’s perfect for drying, as well as part of crafts or even cooking.
It features a sweet fragrance, and will grow up to 90cm tall, spreading to 105cm wide, if given the right conditions.
It needs full sun and dry, poor soil, preferably sandy or alkaline soils. Because it clumps together, you need to make sure that there’s enough air circulation getting to the majority of the plant.
One of the most popular types of lavender, ‘Hidcote’ , features dark purple blooms atop blueish green leaves. The flower spikes reach a maximum of 4cm long, and feature a stunning fragrance.
Hidcote will thrive in all soil types, as long as it drains freely, and the lavender is in full sunlight.
This type of lavender features upright stems and perfect, deep violet flowers. Unlike some lavenders which splay out, ‘Betty’s Blue’ remains erect, making it perfect for the sides of paths.
It’s also perfect for containers, as low hedging, and culinary properties, as well as drying lavender for later use.
The flowers are produced in the height of summer, usually only once, but they may produce a smaller second flush. You can even eke it out to three, if you cut the flowers fast enough.
‘Betty’s Blue’ works well in a sunny position, and in any well-draining soil. If you live somewhere humid, it’s essential that you provide the plant with enough air circulation.
One of the most popular types of English lavender, this produces fragrant flower spikes with clusters of lilac blooms, offsetting perfectly against the silvery foliage.
If you’d prefer white lavender, ‘Nana Alba’ is a great option. This variety features silvery foliage which offsets the clusters of flowers perfectly.
A very unusual type of lavender, ‘Lavenite Petite’ features circular clusters of dense flowers. The scent also travels well, making it perfect for a fragrant variety.
The flowers of ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ make up half of the flower stems, and this variety is extremely resistant to freezing temperatures, down to 5°F or -15°C.
A compact variety, ‘Munstead’ reaches 45cm tall, and features much smaller clusters of blue flowers, appearing in mid-summer onward.
Boasting extremely pale pine flowers, ‘Rosea’ is worthy of any garden, and features pale green leaves, and is very easy to reproduce by taking cuttings.
Lavandula Latifolia: Portuguese Lavenders
This type of lavender also goes by the name Spike lavender, and comes from the western parts of the Mediterranean.
If you want a much stronger presence of lavender in your garden, Portuguese lavender is much more scented than English lavender.
It also produces flowers from the later days of spring right up until the end of summer.
One of the lavender varieties that will produce huge blooms, ‘Portuguese Giant’ is loved by bees, and these blooms appear from late spring onwards.
Lavandula x Intermedia: Hybrid Lavenders
This particular type of lavender is a cross between Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula Latifolia.
It combines the cold tolerance of English lavender and the way Portuguese lavender thrives in hot, dry conditions, making it suitable for any garden.
One of the darkest purple lavenders you’re sure to find, ‘Impress Purple’ makes a statement with its densely clustered flowers.
Growing to a maximum of a meter tall, ‘Hidcote Giant’ produces tall spikes of violet flowers during summer.
This lavender hybrid features significantly higher amounts of oil within the plant, and higher camphor levels, making it much more fragrant.
It’s a very easy plant to grow, and you might recognize the name, as it’s an ingredient in many cosmetic and cleaning products.
One of the best-suited lavenders if you want to grow it indoors, this is a highly-scented variety, and loves humidity.
‘Grosso’ features lovely dark green aromatic stems, and dark purple blooms. The fragrance is weaker than other varieties, and it’s also a very hardy plant.
One of the tallest varieties you can grow, ‘Seal’ can get to a lofty 3 feet high. They do well in tricky conditions that other plants wouldn’t tolerate.
The fragrance of ‘Seal’ isn’t particularly strong, but it does still work well as dried lavender.
One of the latest blooming types of lavender, ‘Phenomenal’ is best grown in sandy or otherwise poor soil. It needs full sun, and is very resistant to deer and rabbits.
Lavandula Multifida: Egyptian Lavender
A very unusual type of lavender, Egyptian lavender or Lavandula multifida features silvery, fern-like foliage which is covered in downy hairs.
It produces violet-blue blooms in early summer, well into the early days of fall.
While the foliage contains a lot of scented oils, the fragrance is more similar to oregano than lavender.
Lavandula Dentata: French Lavender
French lavender spreads well, making it perfect for any empty beds or edges that could do with an injection of color.
The fragrance of Lavandula Dentata is less pronounced than other types of lavender, but it is sweeter, which is worth mentioning if you want a very fragrant lavender.
Like most types of lavender, French lavender thrives in full sunlight, and it can withstand hot and dry conditions.
Growing Lavenders: Everything You Need To Know
How to Grow Lavender Outside
When you should plant lavender depends on where you live. If you live somewhere warm, you can plant lavender outside in the early autumn.
This will allow the plant’s roots to get established, without intense temperatures baking them before they have a chance.
If you live somewhere colder, only plant your lavender out when all risk of frost has passed.
Make sure to introduce it outside slowly, bring it out for a couple of hours, and take it back in, elongating the amount of time each time.
Try to avoid feeding lavender. Most types have evolved to survive in the poorest quality soils possible, and feeding it can shock or even kill a lavender plant.
Don’t be tempted to try and alter the pH of your soil by adding citrus juice. This probably would kill your plants, and most types of lavender don’t need acidic soil in order to grow.
If you really need to change the pH – don’t try. Put the required soil in a container, and put the plant in that.
As long as you keep the lavender in well-draining soil, in a sunny position, it should thrive.
How to Grow Lavender as a Houseplant
It’s certainly much easier to grow lavender outside than it is to grow it as a houseplant, but that’s not to say it’s impossible.
You’ll need to place it in the sunniest windowsill possible, and south-facing is best for this. Make sure to rotate the plant regularly, to keep all parts healthy.
Keep lavender away from radiators and other sources of heat or even drafts.
When it comes to watering the plant, soak it thoroughly to promote strong root growth, and let it nearly dry out before you water it again. Check the soil through the drainage hole, not from above.
How to Plant Lavender
Lavender prefers poor soil, and if you get that right from the get-go, chances are your lavender plant will be happy.
You can even use old or spent compost – which is normally a no-no, as it can cause disease and other nasties – but it’s suitable for lavender and other herbs which prefer soil with very little nutrients.
Make sure to plant lavender in April or May if you live somewhere cooler, as the soil will have warmed up.
If you try to plant lavender in winter, it will probably rot. It also won’t survive in heavy clay soil, or soil that gets boggy.
Planting Lavender in the Ground
Make sure to get the position right. It needs somewhere very sunny, in well-draining soil that’s fairly sheltered.
Plant lavender about 3 feet apart if you’re planting more than one. Water it in, and keep an eye on it for the next few weeks. You may have to water it more regularly than mature lavender.
Planting Lavender in a Container
Make sure the container is suitable for the size of the lavender, as well as having big drainage holes.
A multipurpose compost is best, mixed with perlite or grit to make sure the water drains freely.
Put the lavender in the pot, making sure it sits firmly in the soil, and the top of the original soil isn’t proud of the soil level you’ve put in the container.
Water it in, and keep a careful eye on it in case it needs more within a few days. Containers tend to be worse at retaining water than in the ground, so keep this in mind.
How to Care for Lavender
Lavender needs very little care, making it perfect for those that don’t have a lot of time on their hands.
If you’ve got the conditions right – freely draining soil, lots of sun, and good air circulation – they need very little attention.
In the first summer of planting, you’ll need to water lavender regularly to help the roots get started in the plant’s new home. Once it has established itself, you can let it take care of itself, unless there’s a prolonged drought.
If you plant lavender in a container, the plant will need much more water than in the ground. The roots don’t have a lot of soil to search for water, so you’ll need to be mindful of this.
To encourage more flowers, deadhead any spent ones, though leaving them on at the end of the season will help the plant set seed, and it will also provide a source of food for birds.
How and When to Prune Lavender
Lavender can easily get woody, which isn’t a great sight. To keep the plant more compact, wait until it’s finished flowering in the late summer.
Remove any flower stalks where the flowers have faded. You can leave most of the old growth on, as it will protect the plant from frost.
Once the new growth has appeared and the frost has gone in spring, you can trim it back.
Depending on the type of lavender you have, you may need to give it some protection during winter. English lavender and hybrids of this type are very hardy, and don’t need winter protection.
Containers are more vulnerable to frost, so you’ll either need to put them into a frost-free greenhouse, or a very sheltered spot, maybe next to a wall of your house.
Pests and Diseases to Watch Out For
If you grow lavender in the right conditions, your plant shouldn’t have any trouble.
However, if you try growing this plant in heavy or consistently soaked soil, this will lead to root rot and plant death.
If I’ve just described your garden, grow lavender in a container in the right kind of soil.
There are very few pests that trouble lavender plants, and those that do make a nuisance of themselves only do cosmetic damage, which won’t kill the plant.
These include the Rosemary beetle, Spittlebugs, or the Sage and Ligurian leafhopper.
The Many Uses of Lavender
Lavender has been used for thousands of years to treat numerous ailments, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, abdominal swelling, nausea, migraine, and to relieve pain.
Lavender is also said to repel mosquitoes, and other nasty bugs.
It is worth noting that you should never self-medicate, even if you are on no medications and have no existing medical conditions. You can still do yourself more harm than good.
Lavender essential oil is a cornerstone in aromatherapy, helping some people relax and reduce the effects of stress, as well as helping to treat insomnia in some cases.
In order to use lavender for craft purposes, you’ll need to dry it out first. This is easy to do.
Simply take cuttings of lavender, preferably including long stalks to make it easier, and bunch them together.
Tie them with some string to keep them together, and hang them upside down somewhere warm. Within a few weeks, the moisture will have evaporated.
You can use dried lavender as part of a potpourri, as a dried flower arrangement, or in lavender bags.
Lavender bags are helpful for repelling moths from your clothes, as well as helping to promote restful sleep. You can also include them in bath salts for a better bath.
There are only a few types of lavender which are regarded as ‘true’ culinary lavender, such as royal velvet and provence. If in doubt, don’t use it.
If you are buying lavender from a shop, make sure to get the food-grade stuff, as this has been treated with eating it in mind.
How much you should use varies on the type of lavender and your palate. It’s better to err on the side of caution, as too much lavender can easily ruin a dish.
They’re great in biscuits and desserts, but also to help flavor dishes, as long as you use the dried, food-grade lavender.
How to Make Play dough Out of Lavender
Making home-made play dough can be a great way to both focus a child’s attention and to get them to have fun and relieve stress.
It’s also a great way to create something which you don’t have to worry about them eating it, as long as you use food-grade lavender.
Here’s what you need in order to make lavender play dough:
You need 2 cups of plain flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, half a cup of salt, 2 tablespoons of cream of tartar, a cup of boiling water, and a cup of dried lavender.
It’s best that you start things off, especially when it comes to the boiling water.
Add the ingredients together, and as the water cools to a safe temperature, you can let the children take over to knead it into any shape they can imagine.
Lavender: Frequently Asked Questions
What do Lavender Flowers Represent?
Lavender flowers have been linked to tranquility, grace, peace, and relaxation since Roman times, and the symbolism hasn’t changed all that much.
As purple is traditionally considered to represent nobility and even royalty, lavender can be gifted to someone who you think stands above the rest.
How Many Types of Lavender Are There?
The lavender genus includes about 47 recognized species, and within that, there’s at least 450 different varieties.
Exciting new hybrids are being created all around the world, all the time, so these numbers will grow with time.
Are All Types of Lavender Safe to Eat?
No. As a general rule, you should only harvest any plant species for food as long as the variety has been designed for that purpose, and grown specifically to eat.
Otherwise, in the best-case scenario, your dish will taste like perfume rather than the flavors it was meant to have. Worst-case scenario, it can be very dangerous.
What Type of Lavender is the most Fragrant?
Lavandula x intermedia, specifically ‘Grosso’ has one of the strongest fragrances available, although many of the Lavandin hybrids under this name do.
Lavender is the perfect garden plant, and also has many uses in the home.
The fragrance of lavender is very uplifting and relaxing, and having a ready supply of it in the garden means you can enjoy it at any time you want.
Lavender plants are also the perfect addition to a night-scented garden, or somewhere you want to sit out and feel connected to nature.