By Clive Harris
English lavender is a short-lived perennial herb that is as popular for its wonderful fragrance as for its colorful flowers. As might be expected from a plant that has given its name to the color lavender, the flowers are typically shades of mauve through purple, but white and pink varieties are also available. The green, bluish or grey-green leaves are simple, flattened, tapered oblongs, with silvery hairs that contain a fragrant oil.
Lavender is a very versatile, forgiving and drought tolerant plant that will thrive in a sunny position on well-drained soil. It is generally very low maintenance and demands only a short back and sides each year to keep it looking good.
In the garden, it combines well with many other popular plants. It remains a fashionable component of a wide range of designs, being equally at home in a contemporary gravel garden with sea-holly and Santolina, an informal Mediterranean garden with its curry plant, rock-rose and rosemary neighbors, or a relaxed, traditional English cottage garden with roses, foxgloves, delphiniums, hollyhocks and hardy geraniums.
There are nearly 50 wild species of lavender, mostly from the Mediterranean region, though outliers are also known from the Canary Islands, eastern Africa, and south-eastern India. English lavender is not native to Britain, and it was probably introduced by the Romans, who valued its culinary, fragrant and medicinal qualities.
This article provides advice on caring for lavender in the garden border and patio pots and suggests some of the best varieties to grow for their aesthetic and aromatic qualities.