Taking a Gamble

This spring I took a gamble which has paid off. We have some lavenders planted around pedestals at the Tower. Our soil, being heavy clay is far from ideal for lavender and these lavenders are planted (not by me! honest!) in a strip too narrow for them so they struggle onwards and then get bashed by the mower for their trouble. They were twiggy and disreputable looking, my yearly ministrations being insufficient to whip them into shape, and so I took a deep breath and hacked.

Yes, dear reader I cut into ‘dead wood’ in places (why do they call it that – it’s not dead, if it was there’d be nothing growing up the whole stem), and in others was somewhat reassured by the pinpricks of grey growth, virtually indistinguishable from bark.

This was what I call a ‘kill or cure’ treatment. And in this case it cured. Hurrah! Now they are in far better shape and can be cut back hard yearly to stop them from becoming twiggy again. I should have done it years ago. Mind you, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re unwilling to face the death of the plants in question.

I follow the directions of the Lavender-philes at Downderry nursery when it comes to trimming hardy lavenders. They seem to disagree with the RHS who recommend (or at least, my ancient A-Z tome recommends) deadheading after flowering and a trim in Spring. Downderry suggest a hearty chopping back in August and this does seem to work best to keep the plants bushy and attractive.


Although there’s no label accompanying the pictured plants I have strong suspicions they’re ‘Hidcote’.

Do you have a favourite lavender? My personal favourites are the varieties with long pointed flowerheads, such as ‘Old English’ and ‘Gros Bleu’. I planted ‘Old English’ in my new herb beds but it’s still a bit weedy to make good photo material. They seem to be bigger plants too, which I like. There are hundreds of places a petite lavender is perfect I will admit, but the larger ones have a languid elegance which is (for me) lacking in the compact varieties.


21 responses to “Taking a Gamble

  1. I have grown lavendar for about 7 years, and I am still learning how to keep it going. I like French lavendar.

    • French lavender is lovely but sadly it seems to object to our soil more strongly than the hardier ones though and dies in the winter wet. Maybe I should grow some Lav. stoechas varieties in pots…

  2. I can’t grow lavender in my garden because there are no beds that are hot and dry enough–I have tried and tried. Your plants are beautiful.

  3. I like Dentata – although I have two types, one is “greyish” and one is green with purple flowers. I prefer the latter. I am going to have to try what you did because some of mine are not looking great. “Twiggy” describes them best.

    • Gulp! Don’t blame me if they die! Dentata is not a hardy lavender so I think I’d be more wary of hacking it about. But then as I’ve never grown it I don’t really know what I’m talking about…

  4. I love lavender. I have some planted along my front walk, with my idea being that you could brush against and release the scent as you approach my front door. I usually give it a harsh pruning in the spring, and that seems to do enough for my needs. Also, great background for your blog — I’m using the same one. 🙂

  5. I grow French Lavender in the suntrap area of my garden. I like the contrasting colours and bees love it. It seems to be developing a dead bit in the middle, but the rest is OK.

  6. I did the same as you – hacked my lavender right back because it had gone insane. Apart from one bush – there are eight more (!) – everything is completely fine. And that’s even though we had a horrible winter. Maybe the gardening books are being over-cautious…

    (I vote for good old Hidcote…)

  7. Jush shows that gardening is about trial and error, books are fine but not always right. A book is after all just one person expressing their opinions.

  8. We are also lavenderphiles. 😉 We have about 525 linear feet of Munstead lavender hedges in our gardens. I agree with your methodology wholeheartedly – we do the same with ours.

    Munstead is a shrubby lavender that responds well to a good pruning in early spring. Hidcote is not as shrubby but all older mature lavender has “old wood” and sometimes you do have to cut it back to shape and reign in the plant.

    I would cut it back earlier in August rather than later in the month. The reason is that cutting it back is going to stimulate growth and you will get a second smaller bloom. After that bloom, I would not do any more than to cut off the flower spikes you want to harvest from the second bloom – but don’t prune it, in other words, in fall. Wait until spring. That will make it use it’s energy to nourish its roots rather than divert it into new growth that will be especially vulnerable during winter months. You want the new growth from the August pruning to have time to mature before winter… a couple of weeks can make a big difference.

    And enjoy it! Ours just started blooming and will peak in a week or so!

  9. Well, any time I’ve cut lavender back into the old wood, it dies. Where I live, I’m lucky that it grows at all, so I’m not complaining…. I run my lavender on a 3 year renewal programme, After three years chuck the whole lot out and start again. Hidcote & Munstead are the only varieties that do at all well with me, so I stick to them.

    • I think I was lucky and in many of them I could see the first tiny signs of new growth below my cut – I only cut into really old growth in a few places. It sounds like you’re on much worse clay than us!

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