Compact lavenders

Enjoy their fragrant, easy grace in pots or as border edgings

Compact lavenders

'Fairy Wings' lavender, shown here in ceramic pots, produces an abundant show of delicate lilac-colored flowers.

Thomas J. Story

What's not to love about lavender? Flowers of many varieties have a fragrance so heady that they're used to make potpourri, soap, and perfume; some are also used in cooking.

Most lavenders dry beautifully for bouquets and attract bees and butterflies. There's a species for just about every region, from the coast to inland valleys, mountains, and deserts.

Dwarf lavenders, which stay under 2 feet tall (see list below), are compact alternatives to the common varieties that can grow to 4 feet or taller. They're particularly suitable for small beds, border edgings, even containers.

Best of all, they're simply smaller lavenders with all of the same great qualities as their parents.

When you shop, keep in mind that 'Hidcote' and 'Munstead', two well-known compact varieties, are often grown commercially from seed rather than cuttings; that means their growth habit and flower color will vary. Always buy these varieties in bloom (or from a nursery that sells only cutting-grown plants) so you know what color you're getting.

 

12 small lavenders

Of the many dwarf lavenders we grew in Sunset's test garden, the ones mentioned here are some of our favorites. Heights listed include foliage and flowers; when not in bloom, plants range from 8 to 14 inches tall.

Many lavenders are sold under more than one name, which we note in parentheses.


ENGLISH

Lavandula angustifolia. Most dwarf types are varieties of English lavender, all with wonderfully fragrant flowers. Foliage is gray-green unless noted. All grow in Sunset climate zones 2-24 from the Western Garden Book.

'Compacta'. Light purple flowers. Very compact growth to 1 1/2 feet tall.

'Hidcote' (sometimes sold as 'Hidcote Blue'). One of the darkest purple flowers of any lavender; short stems. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall. Look for cutting-grown plants.

'Irene Doyle' ('Two Seasons Lavender'). Light purple flowers. Medium green to gray-green foliage. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.

'Loddon Blue'. Dark violet-purple blooms. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.

'Martha Roderick'. Light purple flowers. Gray foliage. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.

'Nana Alba' ('Dwarf White', 'Baby White'). White flowers. Very compact growth to just 1 foot tall.

'Rosea' ('Jean Davis'). White to pink buds, pale lilac-pink flowers. Light green foliage. Grows 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall.

'Sarah'. Purple flowers. Medium green to gray-green foliage. Grows to 1 1/2 feet tall.

'Silver Frost'. Deep lavender-blue flowers. Silvery white foliage. Grows to 15 inches tall. A hybrid of woolly lavender and English lavender.

SPANISH

L. stoechas. Blocky flower heads produce showy top bracts that look like rabbit ears or wings. Spanish lavenders bloom from spring into summer and will usually repeat bloom if flowers are sheared off after they fade. Flowers have a piney lavender scent. Foliage is gray-green. Zones 4-24.

'Dwarf'. Rosy purple flowers. Grows to 1 1/2 feet tall.

'Fairy Wings'. Particularly long lilac-pink bracts. Grows to 1 1/2 feet tall.

'Ron Lutsko's Dwarf'. Medium purple flowers on short bloom stalks. Very compact growth from 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall.

LAVENDERS BY MAIL

If you can't find the varieties you want at your local nursery, try these mail-order sources.

Dutch Mill Herb Farm, 6640 N.W. Marsh Rd., Forest Grove, OR 97116; (503) 357-0924.

Goodwin Creek Gardens, Box 83, Williams, OR 97544; www.goodwincreekgardens.com or (800) 846-7359.

Lavender basics

PLANTING. Choose a spot in full sun with well-drained soil, or plant in raised beds or containers. Keep soil off the crowns (base) of the plant. In hot climates that experience humidity in summer (most notably the Southwest during the monsoon season), plant in an area that gets good air circulation and avoid crowding.

WATERING. Young plants need regular watering to keep the soil moist. Once plants are established, slowly cut back on frequency so the top 2 inches of soil go fairly dry between waterings.

FERTILIZING. A light application of organic fertilizer in spring should be sufficient (plants are not heavy feeders).

PRUNING. To keep plants bushy, cut off spent flowers and about one-third of the foliage after bloom.

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