The crowning glory of Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas)
Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is the most distinctive of all the lavenders because it sports ‘bunny ears’ above its cone type flower. These petals form a crown about the cone, which is why the Spanish call it ‘crowned lavender’.
The stoechas group has the widest range of colours of all the lavenders, from the classical mauve to pink, red, deep purple, greeny yellow and white.
There are also bi-colours and these include the new Coco Blue-White lavender which has a dark blue cone with white petals, the more compact dwarf Bella Purple Lavender which has a dark purple cone with rose coloured petals, and the Bella White lavender that has a pale mauve cone and white petals.
Gardeners who enjoy lavender should make space for a mass planting of L stoechas because it is spectacular in spring and early summer.
Once stoechas have finished flowering, they can be cut back by about a third, even two thirds if they are really untidy. They will then bush out nicely and can be expected to flower again in autumn, but on a more limited scale
Leading lavender grower, Margaret Roberts, who has trialled some 30 varieties at her Herbal Centre in de Wildt, promotes flowering by digging in compost around the bushes in midwinter and then again after flowering.
Because stoechas are mainly spring flowering they should be grouped with other flowering plants that will provide colour in summer.
Being tough little Mediterranean plants that thrive in dry conditions, they will complement other plants that also like full sun, well drained soil and not too much water. This could include coreopsis, vincas, petunias, gazania, angelonia and ivy leaf pelargoniums as well as other lavender species.
Margaret says she enjoys the stoechas group for their neat all–year-round appearance as the bushes generally remain compact, reaching a garden height of between 40 to 80 cm. Even when not in flower, the grey green foliage is an asset in the garden.
For those interested in this lavender’s origins and history, it gets its name from the Stoechades islands in the Mediterranean. The lavender originates from these islands, now called Iles de Hyeres, and from the Spanish Mediterranean region.
The ancient Greeks and Romans used Spanish lavender as a strewing herb and in their laundries and bathhouses because of its strong camphor like fragrance.
This means that we can still use the stoechas lavender to help us unwind by adding it to the bath water, or by using it to make a bath scrub.
In ‘The Lavender Book’, published by Briza, Margaret Roberts gives a recipe for a lavender wash that can also be used as a refreshing spritzer to cool down the face, neck and arms in summer.
It is made by boiling one cup of lavender leaves and flowers in four cups of water for 10 minutes and letting it cool. The lavender water is strained and kept in the refrigerator.
Another use for stoechas lavender is as an insect repelling spray. This recipe also comes from Margaret’s book and can be used to repel aphids and whitefly and to wash out dog kennels and baskets.
Mix half a bucket of lavender twig, leaves and flowers with a quarter of a bucket of rue, and marigolds or khakibos, and pour one bucket of boiling water over this. Let the mixture stand overnight to draw and strain it the next morning, adding a cup of soap powder. The mixture is used as a spray or wash.
Stoechas lavenders are available at leading garden centres as well as at the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre at de Wildt, which has an Open Day on Saturday November 3. For more information about the Coco or Bella ranges contact BallStraathof customer care line: 0861-blossom (or 0861-256776) or email . The Herbal Centre can be contacted at 012 5041721.