In a house where I used to live, the lavender spills out of its borders and over the path. My large dog would wait anxiously until I had opened the door, then rush through the corridor of blossom into the safety of the hall. The lavender was always alive with bees. There were honey bees, certainly, and I noted two different types, one darker and smaller than the other. And, many, many bumblebees. I sat down one day and watched them, counting six different species within seconds. There are few plants so generous with nectar, and for so long, as the English lavender.
It is generous in the garden in other ways too, being highly versatile. It works brilliantly planted in an arc, the blue stream drawing the eye along itself. The path I described is short, straight, and unremarkable really. It could be described as formal, but that implies a grandeur which it does not possess. The lavender was planted close enough together to form a low hedge. When it is trimmed, there are mounds of grey foliage which just touch each other. In flower, it is a seamless strip of blue. It suits the straight line, and it transforms it too. The rounded profile of the bushes soften the edge and make it comfortable. The flower spikes move; they stir in the breeze and are disturbed by the constant comings and goings of the insects.
Once upon a time, I cared for a garden which had a rather odd ‘feature’ wall, fully 3m/10′ high, with a planting bed on its top. I filled it with Lavandula angustifolia which I knew could tolerate the hot, dry conditions. I trimmed it less vigorously than is my usual habit, so that in flower the haze was fully 1m/3′ across, possibly even greater. From the house, the view to the garden was through the flowers, and from the garden, the house was a cliff rising from a sea of lavender blue waving in the wind.
Although movement is lovely, too much breeze steals the scent away. Lavender works well in a sunny courtyard or a sheltered sun-trap. Recently, I have been asked to rework a patio for a client. It faces west, so is in full sun from noon until dusk. It is a small area, 5m by 5m/15′ or thereabouts, and is bounded by a low wall. The sides will be planted with espaliered Malus transitoria to provide an open screen and beneath them there will be strips of lavender, cooling and restful to the eye. The wall of the house is swathed in Wisteria sinensis and, with a little luck, it and the lavender may coincide in some years. I am toying with the idea of some white lilies, something highly fragrant like Lilium candidum, which flowers in May and June. It pairs well with the lavender, both visually and fragrantly, but it may be an element too many. I prefer simple schemes in small or formal settings. They express the virtue of restraint and are a recognition of sufficiency.
My dream garden, which shape-shifts and grows in new directions as I age, will always have a space for Lavendula angustifolia. It pleases me almost as much as it pleases the bees.