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The Color and the Plant: What's not to Love about Lavender?

By Larry Rettig (LarryRMay 7, 2012
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What exactly do we mean when we describe the color of a flower as "lavender?" On the color wheel below, where exactly does lavender start and where does it end? And exactly which flower varieties do we perceive as lavender?

Gardening picture(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on September 23, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be advised that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

O


riginally, the color name lavender applied only to the color of the flowers of the lavender plant. As recently as the early 1950s, there were only four generally recognized shades of lavender1: floral lavender ({), lavender gray ({), lavender blue ({), and old lavender ({).  By 1955, the publication of the ISCC-NBS Dictionary of Color Names 2 (a color dictionary used initially by stamp collectors to describe the colors of stamps), listed dozens of different shades of lavender.  While there may be precise methods for gauging what is a shade of lavender and what is not, we all have our own perceptions.  So in today's plant world, although floral lavender remains the standard lavender color, we have come to incorporate many, many shades under the term.

Before we explore the world of lavender flowers, let's consider for a moment what the color evokes.  In many cultures, including ours, various attributes are ascribed to colors.  Lavender is said to evoke tranquility, serenity, grace, and elegance.  For many years, visitors to our gardens have remarked on their tranquility.  It was with some amazement, then,  that I learned that lavender imparts such a feeling.  Lavender happens to be a color theme that runs through most of our beds and ties them all together.

After our little lavender flower safari, I'll discuss the lavender plant briefly and connect you with articles about the plant that my fellow writers here at Dave's Garden have written. 

We begin our pictorial journey with annuals, move on to perennials, and conclude with vines.  These are all flowers that my wife, Wilma, and I grow in our gardens and that we--perhaps in some cases loosely--interpret as shades of lavender.  Cultural information on each plant is just a click away.  Many of these varieties come in other lavender shades as well.  What I've compiled below is really just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  See if your perception of "lavender" squares with or differs from ours and let us know in the space provided at the end of this article .

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ANNUALS

Alstromeria
'Julietta'
(Grown as an annual in our gardens; perennial further south)
Cultural information


Angelonia
'Angelmist Lavender'
Cultural information

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Calibrachoa
'Jamboree Lavender Vein'
Cultural information

 



Mini Impatiens
'Firefly Lavender'
Cultural information

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Pansy
'Supreme Lavender Shades'
Cultural information

 



Pelargonium (Geranium)
'Sarah Don'
Cultural information

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Petunia
'Wave Lavender'
Cultural information

 

 

Snapdragon
'Frosty Lavender Bells'
Cultural information

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Sweet Alyssum
'Easter Bonnet Lavender'
Cultural information

 



Zinnia
'Giant Lavender Gem'
Cultural information

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PERENNIALS

Aster
'New England Purple Dome'
Cultural information




Bearded Iris
'Lavender Interlude'
Cultural information

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Campanula
'Isabella'
Cultural information
 





Columbine
'Swan Lavender'
Cultural information 

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Daylily
'Lavender Dew'
Cultural information





Delphinium
'Guardian Lavender'
Cultural information

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Echinacea
'Fancy Frills'
Cultural information





Foxglove

'Camelot Lavender' 
Cultural information

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French Lilac
'Arch McKean'
Cultural information





Hosta
'Fujibotan'
Cultural information

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Hyacinth
'Amethyst'
Cultural information





Japanese Anemone
'Hadspen Abundance'
Cultural information

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Lavender
Various hues and types
(See discussion below for cultural information)




Lavender Calla Lily
'Lavender'
Cultural information

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Lavender Phlox
'David's'
Cultural information





Lavender Rose of Sharon
'Lavender Chiffon'
Cultural information

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Meadow Rue
'Diffusiflorum'
Cultural information





Oriental Lily
'Lavender Gem'
Cultural information

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Rugosa Rose
'Charles Albanel'
Cultural information





Sea Lavender
'Dwarf/Rock'
Cultural information

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Sweet Rocket

(Also Dame's Rocket)
Cultural information





Tulip
'Blue Diamond'
Cultural information

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Wandflower
(also Fairy Wand)
Cultural information





Yarrow
'Lavender Beauty'
Cultural information

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VINES 

Hyacinth Bean
'Antaque Rouge'
Cultural information



Maypop
'Purple Passion Flower'
Cultural information

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Morning Glory
'Lavender Silk'
Cultural information






Wisteria
'Amethyst Falls'
Cultural information

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Lavender is an ideal theme color for gardens because it's so plentiful and thus provides a larger palette to select from when designing for color.  I have to confess that my favorite color is actually not lavender but blue.  As gardeners, we all know that there is a paucity of blue in the world of flowers, so that blue as a theme color would have restricted us considerably in our choice of plants.

All is not lavender peace and serenity in our gardens, however.  To keep things from getting laid back to the point of boredom, we use sunny yellows and golds for accents, along with an occasional red, orange, pink, or white.  Following  the lead of that venerable English gardening icon, Christopher Lloyd, who loved bright colors and spoke often of "the immense value of red," we have two large beds of annual salvia that scream red at passersby all season long.

Lavender: The plant

Lavender has been a favored herb since the beginning of history.  The earliest documented use dates back 2,500 years.  It was used for mummification and perfume by the peoples of Egypt, Phoenicia, and Arabia.  Romans are known to have bathed in water scented with lavender.  It's from this practice that lavender derives its name.  The Latin word "lavo" means "to wash."

Lavenders can be grouped into three major categories:  Non-English, English, and Lavandin.  Non-English varieties include Spanish, Green, Sweet, and French.  These Lavenders start blooming early to mid spring and continue for as long as six weeks.  They look their best when given a good pruning about four or five weeks into the bloom cycle.  Unpruned plants become fairly large and somewhat untidy bushes.  Pruning also encourages a second flush of blooms.  Non-English lavenders are generally hardy in Zone 7 and southward.

English lavenders include Munstead, Hidcote, Jean Davis, Sarah, and Vera.  As a group, they are somewhat hardier than the Non-English lavenders, with Munstead considered hardy as far north as Zone 5.  Bloom time begins as Non-English varieties begin to fade.  They bloom into early summer.

Lavandins are English lavender hybrids.  Their blooming period follows close on the heels of the regular English varieties and lasts until mid-to-late summer.  Best known are Provence and Grosso.  Others include Abriali, Fred Boutin, and Grappenhall.  They are generally hardy south of Zone 6.

All Lavenders have a distaste for poor drainage, high humidity, and acid soil.  Soil pH should be 6.5 to 7.5.  Siting plants in the sun is a must, and crowding should be avoided to promote as much air circulation as possible.

Lavenders are famous for their wonderful fragrance, but did you know that they can also be used as flavoring in food and drink?  I was surprised to find that there are quite a few recipes that feature lavender as an ingredient.  Perhaps the most novel use of lavender as a flavoring occurs among the French.  They are known to graze lambs in fields of lavender, so that their meat will be tender and fragrant.  If you'd like to pursue the use of lavender as a flavoring in recipes, a good place to start is here.

For more information on the plant and its uses, you need look no further than articles written by my fellow DG writers.  The most recent include:

Lavender, the Versatile Herb by Karen Jones
Lavender Festivals by Karen Jones
The Scented Home by Karen Jones
Gardening with Lavenders by David Salman
Lavender Wands: Make Magical Scented Decorations for your Home by Jill Nicolaus
Watch for more lavender articles from Jill Nicolaus in the near future. 

Whether it's the color or the plant, lavender is an important ingredient in our culture--and that of many other peoples.  May it ever be so!

© Larry Rettig 2008

A note to Firefox users:  Firefox does not recognize the Wingding (a small blossom) that I use in the first paragraph of this article.  It is rendered instead as a brace ({).  The colors used, however, are rendered accurately.

1Aloys John Maerz and Morris Rea Paul, A Dictionary of Color, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1930
2K. L. Kelly und D. B. Judd, The ISCC-NBS Method of Designating Colors and a Dictionary of Color Names, National Bureau of Standards (USA), No. 553, 1955

Color wheel courtesy of:
Don Jusko
Makawao - Maui
Hawaii
A free copy of the wheel with numbered segments is avaialble at:
http://www.realcolorwheel.com/colorwheel.htm

Photos courtesy of:  CaptMicha, daryl, nifty413, Happenstance,  kdjoergensen, goldenfish, croclover, Crimson,  pajaritomt, kent1719, dicentra63, badseed, DaylilySLP, averybird, rebecca101, chrisw99, RichSwanner, 22cold, heathrjoy, rannveig, pixie62560, kennedyh, poppysue,  paolotakeru, kniphofia, Dave, luvsgrtdanes, wihead


  About Larry Rettig  
Larry RettigAn enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
a little gift for all readers vossner 0 14 May 7, 2012 8:48 AM
Oh WOW Pink! dahlianut 2 36 May 7, 2012 7:26 AM
Appreciated this Cville_Gardener 0 10 May 7, 2012 2:57 AM
Lovely Sharran 2 21 Sep 24, 2008 10:00 PM
Great article! art_n_garden 2 22 Sep 24, 2008 9:48 PM
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