Mediterranean Lavenders


Originating in the Southern and Western areas of the Mediterranean, Lavenders have been used decoratively and as medicinally since Roman times.

The various wild forms have been in cultivation since the Middle Ages when they featured strongly in European gardens. Interest in their fragrance and oils also increased during this time, and the various hybridisation's have left us with a rich tapestry of forms, many with quite different uses and appeal.

New Zealand with its high density sunlight and largely coastal aspect, mirrors many of the features of this Mediterranean environment and it is little surprise that nearly all lavender varieties do well throughout the country.

The Sizzle

The Mediterranean influence has hit New Zealand in a big way.

Plastered and colour-washed houses, wrought iron, terracotta and terraced gardens featured strongly in decorating magazines. Supermarkets stock several varieties of olive as a matter of course and sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and pesto are no longer exotic fare for many New Zealanders.

But there’s another group of Mediterranean imports that have been made their presence felt in New Zealand gardens for years and their popularity transcends fashion trends.

Lavenders, those aromatic garden favourites, have always been a top choice for cottage and herb gardens and were widely used in the thematic white and silver gardens so popular a few years ago. A natural solution in dry and coastal situations, they’re obviously on home ground as the passion for Mediterranean garden spreads.

There are twenty-eight known species of lavender world-wide, mostly native to the countries bordering the Mediterranean, and to Asia and India.

In New Zealand the lavenders we grow and love fall into two distinct groups.

The "English" - angustifolia or spica lavenders are thought to have developed from a Mediterranean hybrid taken to England in sixteenth century and later popularised by great horticultural artists like William Robinson and Gertrude Jekyll. These species have a period of winter dormancy and are less vigorous than their cousins from warmer climes, flowering usually once a year, in late spring or early summer.

Their showier relations from the continental nations are known as stoechas or "Mediterranean" types and are characterised by their colourful compressed flower spikes topped by striking bracts. They are robust growers and abundant bloomers. Their flowering season begins in early spring and lasts for months, with some varieties flowering almost year-long. These lavenders thrive in our temperate climate and flourish throughout New Zealand.

Liddle Wonder’s picked the very best of the Mediterranean lavenders, and their release each spring, reflects that enthusiasm.

The subtle colour combinations, fragrant flowers and easy disposition of Mediterranean lavenders will fill a gap in all sorts of planting schemes - exotic or distinctly New Zealand.

Silvery foliage and a hardy nature makes them ideal companions for native coastal dwellers - hebe and olearia species, arthropodium, senecio and New Zealand helichrysum. And they’re the perfect foil for a blazing summer backdrop of flaming pohutukawa.

Or mix them with other Mediterranean, African and Australian heat lovers for a striking "dry" garden. The silver leucadendron, protea, cistus, rosemary, thyme, olive, agapanthus, artemesia, sedum, arctotis, Federation Marguerite Daisies and catmint spring to mind - but the list is endless.

Other showy plants that complement the theme include Choisya ternata, the non-invasive Convolvulus cneorum and Blue Lake, ceanothus, cordyline, Lithospermum Graceward, Meyer Lemons and other citrus, osteospermum, Solanum jasminoides, Echium fatuosum - the Pride of Madiera, Genista Yellow Imp and gazania - look for the new Sunbather series.

Garden designers like Gertrude Jekyll and Australian Edna Walling recommended the use of grey and silver plants as garden "catalysts". In bedding schemes they have long been used to break up strong colours and subdue potential garish clashes. And the powerful light-reflecting properties of the foliage will light up the dullest garden. As accent plants they can be used to highlight edges, corners or special features. In a container close to the house their fragrance is alluring.

And in combination with terracotta pots they exude the essence of Mediterranean style ...

More on lavenders

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