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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Lavender makes good scents
Deer-resistant subshrubs that love heat!

by Carolyn Singer
July 17, 2010

a lavender pathRunning down the path to the carriage house behind my great-aunt's Victorian house in Santa Rosa, I slowed down only when the English lavender was in bloom. Its irresistible fragrance stopped me in my tracks, and for a moment my desire to revisit the mysteries in the attic of the carriage house was forgotten. This is a favorite childhood memory.

Aunt Lou's magical garden, an echo of the cottage gardens she knew as a young girl in England, inspired me for many years. How excited I was to discover that the lavender I loved grows so well in the Sierra foothills.

a Nevada City CA gardenIn my garden, deer-resistant lavenders and lavandins bloom for more than two months. While the "true" English lavenders, (Lavandula angustifolia) remain my favorites, the lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia) have just as wonderful fragrance. The cultivar Lavandula 'Grosso' (photo left) is often selected for its nice form and potent fragrance. With many different cultivars to choose from within the two species, gardeners have an opportunity to select the perfect lavender for their landscape.

'Blue Cushion' is the smallest English lavender in my rock garden, barely one foot in spread and height in full bloom. The largest lavandin I have grown is 'Fred Boutin', with a five-foot spread and four feet in height. In between those two extremes, there are many cultivars with varying colors of bloom and foliage, height and spread, and even growth habit.

Lavandula nana 'Alba'Lavandula angustifolia nana 'Alba' (photo right) is one of my favorites. It is a low-growing English lavender with white flowers on short stems, and a very long bloom. While it is under a foot in height, it will spread to as much as three feet. Both the English lavender and the lavandins include several white cultivars with long stems on larger plants.

Lavandula 'Vera'One of the deepest purples in my collection of lavenders is Lavandula angustifolia 'Vera', photo left. It can easily be pruned to maintain a tidy shrub two feet in height and two to three feet in spread. For a lavender along the garden walk it's perfect because of its compact habit. Planting any lavender near a walkway, allow for the height and spread in bloom. This will leave you room to walk! Edging plants such as thyme or creeping germander may be planted beneath the lavender next to the walk. Or make your path so wide that when the lavenders spill over the edges, you and they have plenty of room!

A commonly grown lavender with a rich purple blossom is 'Munstead'. It blooms for several weeks, with a somewhat sprawling habit of growth. 'Grosso' is a lavandin frequently grown for the commercial trade. Its silvery foliage is striking. The plant is very compact, but in bloom its long stems more than double its eighteen-inch height.

English lavenderThese lavenders and lavandins must have good drainage and full sun in every season.. They do not mind heavy clay or rocky soil as long as it is amended with some compost and mature plants are grown with minimal water. Organic phosphorus such as colloidal phosphate or raw rock phosphate will stimulate strong root growth and ensure plentiful flowers. For calcium, apply oyster shell at planting time and as an annual side dressing. Mulches should be gravel or small rocks. Lavender will even thrive near the reflected heat of a sidewalk (photo right). Plant in full sun, with good drainage year-round. Irrigate established plants every two to three weeks, or even less frequently. In some areas of my garden lavender grows without summer irrigation.

Prune lavenders right after bloom, cutting back the flowering stalks and part of the foliage. Plants recover quickly with new growth. Occasionally I prune also late winter to maintain a good form for the coming season. Pruning some foliage at least once a year should prevent any open or woody growth. It may even prevent snow damage. Choosing the right cultivar is critical. If plants have to be pruned heavily because they have grown too big for the space, they take a long time to recover, and sometimes even die.

Soon after bloom, with or without pruning, lavender sends up new shoots perfect for cuttings. August and September are ideal months for taking vegetative cuttings, and some may even be taken from the early bloomers in July. These cuttings will root in time to make young plants for transplanting in fall. With enough plants you can have your own lavender field!

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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