A slice of France in your garden

Welcome to Squamish. We flew home from Madrid last night after almost seven glorious weeks in France and Spain. Flung our tired, jet-lagged bodies into bed, and woke up to the thunderous sound of rain.

I saw many lovely gardens and plants on our travels. Some I had never seen before and had to play a bit of a Google guessing game with, and some old favourites, one of which is lavender, a plant that easily slips on and off my radar when it comes to designing and planting gardens.

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Our home away from home in Bordeaux had a large teak deck that extended out into the garden, and flanking either side were two of the largest clumps of lavender I have ever seen.

These clumps were a hive of activity, literally. Bees, wasps, and the largest black flying beetle-like insect I have ever seen covered the mounds at all times of the day. It was such a joy to sit out, morning and night, and catch drifts of that wonderful lavender aroma. If you are thinking of planting lavender, plant it somewhere you can sit and enjoy it and keep in mind its specific growing requirements.

The best place for lavender in our Squamish gardens, is the sunniest, driest spot, which just so happens to have excellent/sharp drainage. The greatest threat to lavender in our climate is not the cold of winter, but the rain, and damp soil. Soggy soil equals death for lavender. These plants need excellent drainage which you can try and assist by mounding up the soil in your beds and planting along the top or sides of the mound. Also, try adding sand or grit to existing soil and make sure there is no clay soil underneath to trap water.

Good locations for lavender are in a raised, sloped (so the water runs away from the roots) beds along a driveway or rock wall. Another spot to plant is under the overhangs over your house, where other plants would not appreciate such dry conditions.

Lavender thrives on poor, quick-draining soil, and unlike other flowering perennials, it does not need a lot of organic material/compost to feed the plant. If you have lavender in a mixed border with other hungrier plants, try to keep the compost about a foot away from the base of your lavender plants.

Lavender can grow leggy and woody over time as it is considered a "sub shrub" and needs annual pruning. The best time to prune is after the plants are done blooming and you can sheer them with pruning shears or a hedge trimmer. You can safely take off one third of the foliage from the plant, but try not to cut back into the hard wood. If you have inherited a neglected lavender plant that has gotten too woody and sparse looking, it is easier to pull it out and plant a new one and start again than knock yourself out trying to rejuvenate it.

The healthiest lavender I have seen in these parts is Lavender angustifolia. This is the traditional-looking, Mediterranean-type of lavender and seems to take our cold and wet better than other varieties. Cultivars to look for include L. Munstead and L. Hidcote.

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has interesting looking flower spikes but tends to be slightly more tender in our climate.

For most gardeners, lavender's main attractions are its drought tolerance and long bloom time. Just try to mimic the sun-baked gardens of the south of France and you are on your way to years of perennial enjoyment.

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@ Copyright Squamish Chief

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