With its brisk aroma and eye-catching flowers, lavender has become a symbol of the delicious life. To many Americans, lavender evokes a mythical Provençal night: the window open to the warm night air, a view of faraway hills, clean linen, crusty baguettes, a bottle of wine, and someone to love. Unfortunately, for those of us in much of the continental United States, a healthy lavender plant sometimes remains as elusive as the dream of a Mediterranean paradise.
Lavender 'Grosso' Plant• Lavandin
• Lavandula ×intermedia ‘Grosso’
• Hybrid of cold-hardy English (Lavandula angustifolia) and heat-tolerant Portuguese lavenders (L. latifolia)
• Zones 5 to 9
For years, English lavenders (varieties of Lavandula angustifolia) were promoted as the most adaptable because of their cold-hardiness. However, they tend to melt in the humidity and heat of summer. Lavandins, L. ×intermedia hybrids, combine the cold-hardiness of English lavender with the greater heat tolerance of a Portuguese lavender species, L. ×latifolia. The resulting hybrids are adaptable, heavy-flowering garden plants with a strong scent.
Of the lavandins, the best for all-round garden performance is the variety ‘Grosso’. ‘Grosso’ is the primary commercial variety for production of lavender oil. Its deep aroma, large flower heads, and heavy-flowering nature make it highly profitable to grow. Fortunately for gardeners, it makes an excellent garden plant that is highly adapted throughout the United States.
With some of the most richly colored flowers of all lavandins, ‘Grosso’ makes an impressive show in the garden. Its flowers are a strong violet-blue that shimmer in the summer sunlight. It has a more elegant habit than English lavenders, with long, graceful flower wands making a vast lilac halo around the central mound of silver foliage. It’s heavy-flowering, with sporadic repeat bloom after the main flush of flower in midsummer.
When not in bloom, plants of ‘Grosso’ make compact mounds of silver foliage to 3 feet high and wide. In winter, the foliage picks up tones of pink, violet and blue. With its strong globe shape, ‘Grosso’ is particularly attractive for geometric plantings. A grid of lavandin in gravel would be an excellent low-maintenance substitute for a lawn. ‘Grosso’ grows well in rocky or sandy places. It makes an excellent low hedge and its tolerance for hot, dry conditions lets it thrive along the edges of masonry walks and walls.
‘Grosso’ has been the most reliable of the lavenders I’ve grown. While few lavenders last more than a season or two, particularly in the humidity of our Midwestern summers, ‘Grosso’ has thrived for more than five years, morphing into a huge mound more than 5 feet across when in flower. Shear off faded flower stems to encourage the plant to maintain full and vigorous growth.
More tolerant of excess water and heavy soils than other lavender varieties, ‘Grosso’ still requires good drainage and air circulation to thrive. The plant will die out in spots that are shaded or smothered by surrounding plants. ‘Grosso’ is the most cold-tolerant lavender, particularly in humid areas with heavy soil. Its strong aroma makes ‘Grosso’ unpalatable to deer, rabbits, and other pests. Its flowers are highly attractive to bees.
‘Grosso’ can be used in all herbal and culinary preparations calling for lavender. Combine the flowers with fresh thyme, rosemary and fennel for a lively version of herbes de Provence. It is best to use lavender sparingly, to add just a bit of edge to culinary preparations. Otherwise, it quickly becomes overpowering.
With ‘Grosso’, you can realize the dream of beautiful lavender in your garden. (To read about using lavender in at-home spa treatments, read Body & Soul: Make Lavender Spa Products.) Add dinner in the garden with rustic table linens, crusty bread, good wine and a dear friend, and the good life comes to you.
Caleb Melchior grows unusual herbs and perennials at Sugar Creek Gardens in Missouri. He is studying for a Masters of Landscape Architecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.