November 2011- Lavender

Dr Tim Upson, Curator of Cambridge Botanic Garden took time off from his day job last month to talk to the Gardening Club about lavendula – lavender to you and me! Tim seems to have a thousand and one jobs ranging from taking responsibility for ithe Garden’s 39 acres and collection of over 8,000 plant species, leading on major developments, including the restoration of the Glasshouse Range and Main Gate, and aspects of the Sainsbury Laboratory build to undertaking research in the field and teaching on the Garden’s education programme. Add to this formidable list a few committees, directorships and more and you can appreciate that we were wondering what kind of talk would be delivered to us!

We need not have worried – a consummate professional, Tim gauged the talk just right from the excellent, informative slides to the commentary given in straightforward language. A complex subject was made totally accessible. Who would have thought that there were so many different types of lavender? Wherever you go in most parts of the world it seems that you can trip over a lavender bush – be it Arabia, Somalia, India, the Canary Islands, Morocco ………….as well as in pots on Sandringham patios and in your own garden.

Such a brief article cannot do justice to this talk – have a look at Tim’s book ‘The genus lavendula’. So I shall restrict myself here to recommendations for our gardens, For the good old-fashioned English lavender – lavendula angustifolia – look no further than Hidcote (dark violet flowers), Beechwood blue, Ashdown Forest and the very old cultivar Nana Atropurpurea – all with violet flowers and the pink flowering Miss Katherine. Remember to prune these so that keep their shape. Look within the heart of the plant and you should see small shoots on the side of stems. You should prune so that these shoots are left below where you cut. You can prune with a pair of secateurs or with some shears. The shoots will push out to form the new greenery of the plant. Lavenders like a really good haircut so be brave about it. Many people tentatively snip off the old flowering stems. This is certainly not a hard enough prune. But take care, with this type of lavender pruning is a job for early summer after flowering or next spring around March time. Put a note in your diary now!

Do try growing some of the less hardy lavender but use containers as they do not like our winters! Just beware of the rosemary beetle, a beautiful lavender-striped beetle which has taken a liking to lavender and is starting to tour the UK. The best way of disposing of it is to squeeze between the fingers as you do with the lily beetle.

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