FOR centuries, lavender has been used for domestic purposes in soaps, teas, herbal remedies, bath water and even in cooking.
But nowhere is it more at home than in the garden, to be admired as a low-growing hedge, or fringing a herb garden or simply standing alone in pots in a contemporary setting.
Lavender hedges used to serve as a form of clothes line, as newly washed items were placed over the bushes to dry, becoming impregnated with the scent of lavender oil in the process.
And while the trademark colour of lavender is blue, it actually comes in many different hues, from deep purple to white, creating a mood of subtle sophistication while adding architecture and intense fragrance to a garden.
A native of the Mediterranean, the wonderful thing about lavender is that it will cope with exposed, sunny open positions and the healthiest plants are often those found growing in the most inhospitable position.
It’s happy in not particularly fertile soil and will withstand a lot of neglect.
Lavender makes a cheaper and some would say prettier alternative to box hedging in a sunny spot in well-drained soil.
Don’t allow it to sit in water in the shade for any length of time or it will sulk.
It looks great as a low-growing hedge fringing front garden paths or steps, as visitors brushing against its aromatic foliage help to release its fragrance.
It will even do well in a window box, attracting honeybees seeking out the nectar and pollen. In garden centres you’re likely to come across L angustifolia, otherwise known as common or English lavender, which grows to about 90cm (3ft), bearing mauve flower spikes.
Other common varieties include ‘Hidcote’, which has dark purple flowers and narrow green leaves, and ‘Munstead’, a paler blue type which is great for planting en masse to produce low screening.
There are many other taller versions which produce stunning displays and are a magnet for beneficial insects. The silvery foliage also provides much-needed winter colour.
If you have raised areas, as I do, it may be worth opting for a smaller variety such as Lavandula ‘Little Lady’ (height and spread 30cm), which produces masses of sky blue flowers all summer.
Other varieties are more tender, such as L pinnata, also known as fern leaf lavender, which produces strong blue flowers with a hint of purple and can be treated as a bedding plant.