Hardy lavenders are typically those that have gray elongated leaves and a straight stem that supports a pretty purple flower head. Tender lavenders have fringed leaves, sometimes woolly looking leaves and stubby flower heads with flowers that come above like little wings. The hardy lavenders are usually called common or English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) while the tender ones have names such as Spanish, French, Fringed, dentata or Stoechas lavender and the yellow lavenders. Many of the hardy lavenders can now successfully be grown from seed.
Hardy English lavenders will grow quite happily in zone 4/5 though zone 8 or so but it does require great drainage and full sun. The hybrid x intermediate lavenders are hardy to zone 5. To grow hardy lavender amend the soil so that your plant can survive winter dampness and mulch with gravel or oyster shells. You will also need to increase the pH of the soil to about 6.9 or 7.0.
Hardy English Lavender
- Hidcote: One of the original strains of hardy lavender and a standard in most herb gardens. The Mid purple flower is fragrant and held on stalks that are about 6-8 inches long. The overall plants are compact and make an attractive hedge bordering a walk or garden. Gray-green in overall color.
- Munstead: The other long established strain of lavender and one that is great in the kitchen. The flowers are held on longer stalks than Hidcote making this the perfect lavender for lavender bottles/wands. Works well in the middle of a border rather than around the edge as the blooms are high enough to block smaller plants.
- Hidcote Pink: This is a lovely pink variety that is similar to the Hidcote lavenders.
- Jean Davies: another pink variety sometimes sold as Rosea.
- Twinkle Purple: much darker flower than the usual lavenders.
- Blue River: A compact lavender with a corresponding compact whorl of flowers that condense the color.
- Lavender Lady: Introduced by Burpee and sometimes shortened to just ‘Lady’. Excellent flowering for a long season of enjoyment.
These plants are a hybrid between an Lavendula angustifolia and Lavendula latifolia which is a more tender lavender that is sometimes call ‘Spike’ lavender. The resulting hybrid which is noted as ‘x intermedia’ has long spikes with rich, dense purple blooms. Lavendins are popular for crafts but are not particularly good in the kitchen due to the higher camphor content. Generally the group is less tolerant of cold and struggles in zones 6 or lower. Popular Lavendins include:
- Grosso: A great lavendin for hedges. Grosso is compact and has large flowers held above the foliage. A great lavender for crafts as the scent is held through the drying process. Grosso makes a beautiful casual border to a driveway or perennial bed.
- Provence: A classic lavender that takes its name from the area in France that is famed for lavender and perfumes made from the herb. Slightly lighter blooms than Grosso but very fragrant which makes it wonderful for crafts. It is also slightly more forgiving in areas where springs are cool and damp.
- Hidcote Giant: This is a large version of the angustifolia with gray-green foliage. Giant tends to make a dome shape rather than an upright growth which makes it great for a long row of hedging. The plant gets to about 2 feet in overall height and width.
There are many more lavender varieties but all the hardy strains will be termed L. angustifolia or L.x.intermedia. Hardiness overall will be variable with some more tolerant of cold winters than other. Generally most will do fine in zone 6 with many doing well in zone 5. A few will survive a dry zone 4 as well.