NEWBERG, Oregon–In the fall, I received a box of lavender plants from England. A friend who regularly visits her mother in Yorkshire volunteered to bring my plants through customs for me. I could hardly contain myself as I opened the package. These were lavender plants that I had only read about in catalogs and references. The cultivar names conjured up such images that I spun out a fable in my mind . . .
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there set out two maidens in search of the Holy Lavender Grail–the true Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’. (This is the one that is directly descended from the original plant of Hidcote Manor, England, in 1950.) It has been dutifully propagated vegetatively through countless generations to preserve the true genotype. It stands alone among the many seed-grown imposters that flood the market today. The maidens had a mighty quest and so they were of determined mind and pureness of heart.
Their names were ‘Fiona English’ (a dark-flowered L. angustifolia cultivar from New Zealand) and ‘Dusky Maiden’ (the toughest and hardiest of the green-foliaged L. dentata types). Near the foot of the famed ‘Blue Mountain White’ (a New Zealand L. angustifolia cultivar with pure white flowers, previously known as ‘Alba’.) There, they met with ‘Peter Pan’ (another New Zealand L. angustfolia introduction with dark-purple flowers and calyces) and ‘Grosso’ (a hybrid lavandin, L. ¥intermedia ). Although left with ‘Fragrant Memories’ (a bushier Dutch lavandin with pale purple flowers), they pushed onward.
Their greatest test was at the foot of the castle. They first had to break the great ‘Seal’ (an old lavandin cultivar from before 1935, used for making lavender sachets) on the ‘Old English’ (another old lavandin cultivar from 1930) wooden doors of ‘Grappenhall’ (a lavandin that blooms late and has a fine blue flower). This they did by pounding the lock with the flowers of nearby ‘Fathead’ (an extremely distinctive L. stoechas cross with short, plump flower heads). When they finally entered the great hall, there lay the Holy Grail ‘Hidcote’ on the marble altar.
But, alas, between these two pure maids and their quest stood two imposing guardians to tempt them from their purpose. On the left side, there stood ‘Impress Purple’. On the right side, there stood ‘Sussex’. Each tried to seduce the maids with their attributes. ‘Impress Purple’ (the darkest-colored lavandin) tried to impress upon them his good looks. ‘Sussex’ (a lavandin with the longest flower spikes of any hardy lavender) displayed his attributes. ‘Fiona English’ was not taken by their looks. (You might say she was cold to their advances–like ‘Coconut Ice’ (a New Zealand L. angustifolia cultivar with both pink and white flowers on the flower head).
Not so for ‘Dusky Maiden’, who was smitten by both of them. She promptly disappeared with them for some ‘Regal Splendour’ (a relatively new L. stoechas cultivar that blooms profusely). It had been a long and lonely quest! Alone, ‘Fiona English’ went forward and finally held the true ‘Hidcote’ in her hand; whereupon ‘St. Brelade’ (a fragrant, green-foliaged lavender with pale purple flowers and dusky pink bracts) appeared and gave her a golden lavender wand scepter.
Andrew Van Hevelingen is a professional herb grower and frequent contributor to The Herb Companion. He enjoys writing, photography and gardening at his Newberg, Oregon, home.