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There is something rather momentous going on in my garden right now: Lavender is blooming.

For those of you who successfully grow lavender, this probably doesn’t seem like something worth dedicating a blog post to. With lavender, it seems, you either have it, or you don’t. I’ve struggled with growing lavender for years, which is why my path is lined with nepeta, a hard-working, unneedy plant that estimates the look of a lavender lines path in a slightly less refined manner.
After giving up on lavender, last year I was persuaded to try a new cultivar called ‘Phenomenal,’ which was said to be more hardy than other varieties. Hardiness, when it comes to lavender is a bit of a misnomer I think. Given perfect soil conditions, I think there are a lot of lavenders that would survive our zone 5 winters. Hardiness, when it comes to lavender, has a lot more to do with drainage; they absolutely will not tolerate sitting in cold, wet soil. ‘Phenomenal’ seems to deal with this situation better than others.
Lavender also likes rather poor soil and when I planted ‘Phenomenal’ last year, I planted it in a mix of bark mulch and gravel. That’s it. 
A new ‘Phenomenal’ lavender added this spring.
The three plants I planted last year didn’t look so great in spring, but thank goodness I was patient with them, as all three have rebounded to some degree. I added another two plants this year and planted them in mostly gravel with a touch of soil. I also mulched the soil around them with chicken grit, which is a stand-in for a fine gravel and what I’ve been adding to most of my container mixes lately.
This year’s plant in the foreground, and a plant from last year blooming in the background.
The difference between last year’s plants and this year’s is interesting to note. Last year’s plants are somewhat sparser and greener but they have shot up gorgeous flowers that last and last. This year’s plants have the blue foliage you envision when you think of lavender and are bushier, but that’s no indication of what they might look like next spring.
There is a certain satisfaction that comes from finding success with a plant that has previously proven to be an expensive addition to the compost pile. We gardeners must revel in these victories.

12 Responses

  1. I am still a lover scorned with lavender. In fact it pains me to recall my love lost. I feel like the old lady in Titanic. Except more painful.
    Here it goes. I had the most exquisite lavender border. It was 56 lavender plants around my patio. How they loved the arid, concretey soil. They bloomed with gay abandon. I had them successfully for six years! I wondered why all these people had issues with lavender?! And then over the course of two years, they all died. I tried to cut them back here, replace a plant there. Maybe I'll try again…

  2. Oh, YAY!!! I'm so glad this has worked for you, Erin! I lost one plant this year (out of six), but you'll have that no matter what plants you grow. It was the second brutal winter in a row, and I'm still very happy for my 'Phenomenal' lavender. I think next spring I'll plant a bigger drift of it.

  3. I'm with you about having trouble growing lavender. When we moved to this house there was a rather large unruly lavender plant stuck in the corner of a small patch by the patio. It was in shade 90% of the time, but still had a few blooms on it. Of course, I wasn't happy with it's location. But when I moved it to the south facing garden (full sun), it just withered away. This year there was nothing on it at all.
    But last summer I planted 3 small ones in the same bed – poor sandy soil, bright full sun, tons of drainage – and they have done really well. I'm even thinking I'll need to move them around a bit because they're taking up so much room (already).
    You just never know with gardening.

  4. So, I can't remember how I found your blog since I've never been a gardener (I've tried to grow some veggies and herbs on and off, never had much success, and never even attempted any kind of ornamental gardening), but I've enjoyed your writing and your non-gardening DIY projects… and then two months ago I bought my first house, and a lot of plants came with it, and now I'm obsessed with learning how to keep them alive and even make them better and plant new things. But there is soooo much to learn! (and I'm still trying to figure out what all the plants ARE).

    We have a little bed out front around a small tree (no idea what kind) and one of the things in the bed is lavender. It seems to be doing okay… is lavender just finicky in terms of location, and maybe ours just happens to be a good one for it (also our winters are definitely milder than Wisconsin; I'm in northeastern Oklahoma), or does it need any other special kind of care? I really love the smell and I want to keep it alive! 🙂

    1. Hi Rachel! I'm so happy to hear of your new obsession. There is a lot to learn but no worries, that's the beauty of gardening, you're never finished learning (so therefore you're never behind in learning). I spent most of the first three years of gardening at my house trying to figure out what was a weed and what was a flower.

      If the lavender was growing there when you bought the house it's probably happy and I wouldn't move it. The key thing is drainage and a good amount of sun (part or full). You can cut off spent flowers and dead bits as needed and do a little trimming for shape in spring, but never cut into the old wood or all the way to the ground as it often has a hard time growing back. That said I spoke with someone recently who cuts hers all the way to the ground every year and has a great flush of growth. Sometimes you just don't know, but I like to play it safe. Good luck with your garden. How fun to be learning a new place!

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