English Lavender Plants

Lavender: Classic Mediterranean Plants, Fragrant Herbs

Lavender flowers against a green backdrop.
David Beaulieu

Taxonomy and Botany of English Lavender Plants

Plant taxonomy classifies English lavender plants as Lavandula angustifolia. The Latin word, angustifolia means "narrow-leafed."

Botanically-speaking, Lavandula angustifolia is classified as an evergreen shrub (for warm climates), since this perennial produces woody stems above ground. However, it is seldom referred to as such in lay terms, being commonly thought of, instead, as an aromatic herb and treated like a perennial in flower beds.

It belongs to the mint family.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones

English lavender plants are perennials for USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 8. The "French" variety (Lavandula stoechas) prefers a warmer climate; it is not as cold-hardy. But in spite of its common name and its hardiness, L. angustifolia, like its French cousin, is native to the Mediterranean. This is a consideration to keep in mind when choosing a location for it in your landscaping and preparing the soil for its bed (see below under Sun and Soil Needs).

Wildlife Attracted by English Lavender Plants

This aromatic herb is just one of the many plants that attract butterflies. Fortunately, ants dislike the smell of lavender, making it a possible weapon for organic ant control.

Features of English Lavender Plants

Reaching heights ranging from 2 to 3 feet, their spread can be equal to that or twice that, depending on the cultivar. In general, Lavandula angustifolia bears flowers that are lilac-blue in color and grow on spikes, with leaves that are narrow and grayish-green.

But various cultivars exist, differing in characteristics. In a zone-5 landscape, for example, they begin blooming in June.

Examples of Cultivars:

  1. 'Hidcote' 
  2. 'Hidcote Giant'
  3. 'Munstead'
  4. 'Sarah'
  5. 'Jean Davis' 

One of the most widely grown cultivars is 'Hidcote.' This type grows in a mound shape (you can keep this shape even tighter by pruning the herb often).

It does not get as tall as the species plant, reaching just 20 inches in height. Its blooms are purplish-blue. There is also a 'Hidcote Giant' cultivar, so called because it attains a height of 36 to 40 inches. The blooms are lavender-purple in color.

'Munstead' stays even shorter (12 inches). Its flower color is some combination of blue, lavender, pink, and purple. Still shorter is 'Sarah' (6 to 24 inches), a cultivar with violet flowers. 'Jean Davis' (20 to 24 inches tall) gives a different look with its light-pink flowers.

Domestic Uses

Mention of this old favorite immediately brings to mind the employment of its aromatic quality to lend a fragrance to linens, sachets, and potpourris. For such dried use of this perennial, harvest the flowers just as they open, and hang them to dry in a dark room with plenty of ventilation. English lavender plants have also been used as a flavoring herb (for example, in cordials) and as a medicinal herb (for example, in aromatherapy for sleep).

Sun and Soil Needs

For the best performance, grow these herbs in full sun and in an alkaline, sandy, well-drained soil. They are also drought-tolerant, which is why they are such a good choice in rock gardens.

Landscape Design Uses

Lavandula angustifolia is often used in rock gardens and knot gardens, as an edging plant, and in cottage gardens. Its intermediate height makes it just about right for the middle row in a decorative border comprised of shorter annual flowers in the front and taller shrubs or trees in the back. Would you like to have a garden border that functions as a living privacy fence? If so, you may wish to plant multiple rows, with a row of taller components in the back providing the privacy, and one or more rows of shorter plants to furnish color. Lavandula angustifolia could lend interest to the middle row, with red salvia flowers perhaps jazzing up the front row.

Warning

You probably will want to purchase seedlings of Lavandula angustifolia at a nursery, since they are difficult to start from seed.

However, be careful with your selection. The seedlings bear some resemblance to young rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) seedlings, so novices could become confused and wind up buying the wrong item. Unhappily, items at garden centers are sometimes not labeled properly (sometimes, customers remove labels to read them, then, in returning the labels, put them in the wrong spot).

More Information

Humans consider Lavandula angustifolia to be among the fragrant plants. Traditionally, it has been harvested, dried, and placed in linen closets, making good use of its pleasing aroma. Fortunately, deer pests do not find its aroma pleasing at all; in fact, deer think it stinks. This property makes English lavender plants deer-resistant and thereby a sensible choice in areas plagued by hungry, marauding deer.