French lavender (Lavandula dentata)Lavender is in my opinion one of the most classic ornamental plants. Almost everyone you ask knows what lavender looks like and also knows its perfume. There are several types of lavender, the most well known of which are English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and French lavender (Lavandula dentata). Both these species are commonplace in many Australian gardens but my favourite is French lavender.
Background information on French lavenderFrench lavender is native to the Mediterranean, Atlantic islands and Arabian peninsula. It's used for ornamental purposes and also for its essential oils. French lavender likes to grow in dry conditions with full sun. Apparently it also likes alkaline soil but it seems to grow fine in the slightly acidic soils that I have at home. You may also read that it doesn't tolerate frosts but it is fine in my garden in Macedon where we get significantly heavier and more frequent frosts compared to Melbourne. This leads me to believe the frosts people are referring to when stating that frost can be a problem for French lavender are the really biting European frosts. The species name dentata means toothed and refers to French lavender's toothed shaped leaflets. I love the perfume of lavender and can personally attest to it being a relaxing and calming effect. Whenever I spend the day pruning lavender hedges I always feel really relaxed when I get home later that day. Some people make small lavender packages they place in their pillows to help them sleep.
Why do I prefer French over English lavender?I personally prefer the appearance of French lavender as it is more green than its greyer English counterpart. I also like the fluffy foliage as opposed to the more needle like foliage on English lavender. French lavender also has a much longer length of bloom so you will see flowers on it for a good portion of the year. Because French lavender is less woody than English I suppose it is also easier to strike from cuttings also both plants respond well to this form of propagation. One of the real benefits of French over English lavender is its ability to grow back from a really hard pruning. French lavender hedges can be pruned back almost all the way to the wood but English lavender doesn't react well to really hard pruning and if you go all the way back to the wood you can potentially lose the plant.
Personal preferenceThe choice of an ornamental plant can be compared to the choice of a painting on a wall. So long as the growing conditions are suitable the choice is one of personal preference. English lavender fans may read this and completely disagree with me and that is fine as many of the reasons I have listed in the above paragraph are purely aesthetic. Many people prefer the look of English lavender because to them it the more traditional looking species. Each to their own.
Close up of the magnificent lavender flower. These are on display for a good portion of the year in my home garden.
My small French lavender bush in my Macedon garden during early autumn. Notice the massive amount of flowers it has in bloom. This plant holds some sentimental value for me as it is the first plant I propagated and grew into a full sized specimen.