Lavender species are more diverse than you think, and includes many varieties. We will help you choose between French, spike and true lavender.
The lavender (Lavandula) genus belongs to the labiatae family (Lamiaceae). It includes around 30 different species, mostly grown as semi-shrubs or bushes. Some species offer a bit more colour variety besides the classic purple flowers, such as the particularly pretty white lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Depending on the site characteristics, the different types of lavender may be more or less suitable for cultivation.
We have compared the main characteristics of the three major species of lavender. Thus, you can be sure to find the right type of lavender for your garden.
Types of lavender: true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
True lavender is probably the most popular type of lavender, which is also the most widely grown in the world. In some areas it is also known as “Little Speick” or “Stoechas herb”. It can be found at altitudes of up to 1,600 metres. Originally native to warm, rocky slopes, “Roman Thyme,” as it is also known, tends to prefer calcareous, drier soils in the garden. It grows as a semi-shrub and is almost completely hardy. The leaf colour varies from dark green to silver-white. The flowers again come in different shades of blue and purple, but white and pink-flowered varieties are also present within the species. The aroma of true lavender is rather mild and subtle. Therefore, it is used both as a culinary herb and as a fragrance and medicinal plant.
We can recommend the following varieties:
- ‘Blue Cushion‘: compact variety with large, durable, light purple flowers; well suited for pot culture or rock garden; dwarf form
- ‘Hidcote Blue‘: proven English cultivar with dark blue-violet flowers; strong fragrance; slow and compact growing; under ideal growing conditions, however, plants can grow relatively large
- ‘Hidcote Pink‘: vigorous growing variety with pale pink flowers; needs regular pruning
- ‘Dwarf Blue‘: medium height variety with grey-green foliage and purple flowers; works well as a bed border and scented hedge
- ‘Melissa‘: the pale pink buds of this variety fade to a brilliant white after flowering
French lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
French lavender is notable for its large, ornamental bracts at the top of the flowerheads, which look like a mop of hair. However, in some places it is also called “Welsh lavender” or “Arabian lavender”. In its original homeland, unlike true lavender, it does not grow in mountainous regions but near the coast. In fact, French lavender prefers low-lime, sandy soils. Here, it is usually not winter-hardy and must therefore be overwintered away from frost. French lavender grows as a shrub and is somewhat more woody than Lavendula angustifolia. It is characterised mainly by its long flowering period until August or even into September. The flower colours of this species range from pure white to vibrant shades of pink and purple. The flowerheads and bracts can also be very different in colour. French lavender also produces essential oils with a strong aroma but they are not used commercially.
Some popular varieties include the following:
- ‘Marshwood‘: long-flowering variety; flowers profusely in shades of pink and purple
- ‘Kew Red‘: new cultivar with red and white pinnate flower heads; compact habit; blooms from July to September
- ‘Anouk‘: a variety with dark purple flowers; long blooming period from May to August; bushy growth; intense, pleasant fragrance
- ‘Otto Quast‘: fragrant French lavender with pinkish-purple flowers; dense, broad habit; suitable for pot culture
- ‘Merle‘: compact shrub with red-purple flowers
Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia)
Spike lavender is found in higher regions of the Mediterranean (up to 600 metres above sea level). It therefore prefers calcareous and rather dry soils. Spike lavender survives low temperatures down to -5 °C in our latitudes. The shrub can grow up to one metre in height under ideal growing conditions. However, it is characterised by a very strong aroma and is ideal for creating scented potpourris, for example. Because of its strikingly large leaves, it is sometimes called “broad-leaved lavender.” The flower and leaf colour does not vary quite as much as the other species since little breeding work has been done.
Hardy types of lavender
If you want to cultivate lavender outdoors all year around in our latitudes, it is best to go for hardy varieties at the time of purchase. These usually tolerate the sometimes highly fluctuating weather in winter very well in a sheltered location. However, depending on the region, additional protective measures may be necessary to ensure that the Mediterranean herb survives the winter well. Below we present some hardy varieties of the two most popular species of lavender.
Hardy lavender varieties of true lavender
In its original habitat, true lavender can also be found at higher altitudes. Therefore, it can tolerate temperatures down to -15 °C for a short time even in our country. The robust lavender species belongs to the classics and is a must-have in any garden bed. The mentioned cultivars ˈHidcote Blueˈ, ˈDwarf Blueˈ and ˈBlue Cushionˈ are among the most robust cultivars. They can usually be overwintered in beds without any problems. In addition, we can recommend the following varieties for cultivation in open ground:
- ‘Jamlitz‘: extremely robust, tough variety; also suitable for harsh environments; blue-violet flowers from June to July; grows relatively tall
- ‘Blue Scent‘: robust variety; violet-blue flowers from early June; good growth; rather undemanding in care
- ‘Ellagance Purple‘: hardy variety for bedding cultivation; purple flowers from July to August; bushy habit
Hardy spike lavender
Spike lavender grows on dry, sunny slopes in its native habitat and is somewhat more sensitive to cold than true lavender. It is conditionally frost hardy but it does not tolerate fluctuating weather well at all. High temperature fluctuations and rapidly changing conditions due to rain, snow, frost and thaw in particular because problems for the Mediterranean herb. To simplify overwintering, you can easily cultivate spike lavender all year around in a container or pot.
More information about how to properly overwinter lavender in beds and pots can be found here.
Types of lavender: different soil requirements
For abundant flowering and healthy growth, the main thing is to pay attention to the site requirements of lavender species. If you want to plant French lavender without the presence of a sandy soil, you can simply work sand into the bed. To create a calcareous environment for spike lavender and true lavender, you can help it by adding an appropriate dosage of commercial lime fertiliser depending on the soil properties. For all species, the following applies: water and fertilise minimally because waterlogging is the enemy of these Mediterranean plants.
Now that you have an overview over the different types of lavender, you can find out more about lavender care article.