So you want to grow some lavender, but when you Google for some more information you start seeing this word ‘Lavandin’. Ah, you think, maybe it’s the French name for it? Hm, nice try, but that doesn’t work, because when you check a dictionary it turns out that the French name for what we call Lavender in English, is ‘Lavande’. But hey, we must be close because there is that ‘a’ where we use ‘e’.
Yes, ‘Lavandin’ is indeed French, but we can see it isn’t Lavender, so what exactly is it? To find out we need to explore lavenders a bit more closely, so let’s go:
Not All Lavender is Created Equal
Botanists recognize a whole bunch of species in the group Lavandula, found in hills and mountains all the way from Europe to North Africa, the Canary Islands, North Africa and as far eastwards as the Middle East and Iran. For gardeners, though, there are just a handful of significant species, and the most important is the one longest in cultivation, and the source of lavender oil, Lavandula angustifolia. Often called English lavender or common lavender, it actually comes from France, as well as Spain and Italy. It was being grown in England at least in the 16th century, and probably earlier. The common small lavenders often found in garden centers called ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ is probably a selected form of this plant. (You will understand that ‘probably’ once we explore a little more). Plants of this lavender usually become pretty woody at the bottom, like a real shrub, and produce long annual stems which may die back in cooler areas.
Another common lavender is Lavandula latifolia, which also grows in France, but more often in valleys, and so needing warmer conditions. It is because English lavender tolerates more cold that is became ‘English’! This species, commonly called spike lavender or Portuguese lavender, tends to be less woody, with just a short base of thicker branches, and thinner flower stems. Most noticeable is how it flowers later, almost a month after English lavender.
We could go on about other species of lavenders, and how growers sometimes don’t label their plants accurately, but let’s cut to the chase instead, and talk about this mysterious ‘Lavandin’. It turns out, perhaps not surprisingly considering how long people have been growing lavenders in fields and gardens, that the different lavenders sometimes swap pollen around, and produce seeds that are hybrids. In particular, the two we have just mentioned seem to do this a lot. There is a group of late-flowering lavender plants often called Dutch lavender, and they are almost certainly hybrids of those plants. These are sometimes called Lavandula vera, but there is nothing particularly ‘true’ about them, and that name is really just an alternative, incorrect name for the English lavender. The name ‘Garden Lavenders’ is probably the most useful term for these plants, of varied, uncertain parentage, sold with a variety of names.
In France too, lavender of different species will cross with each other, especially when they are brought together in fields. And that brings us (finally!) to Lavandin. The region of southern France loosely called Provence is famous for its lavender fields, which feature on postcards and in documentaries. These fields are increasingly hard to find, as more and more of the growing side of the perfume industry moves overseas, but they still exist.
Lavandin is Discovered
50 years ago there were more, and it was in such a field, back in 1972, that a long-time grower of lavender was walking. On a sunny day, walking near his village of Goult, in Vaucluse, Pierre Grosso spotted a plant growing in a neglected field, that caught his eye. Out of curiosity he took some cuttings, and grew them on his farm. He soon noticed that these new plants were very vigorous, and gave him a higher yield of stems. He distributed it among his fellow growers, and within a few years 80% of the fields in Provence were growing this single variety, now called ‘Grosso’. It combined the heat and humidity resistance of the Portuguese lavender with the cold resistance of the English lavender, making it ideal across a wide range of growing conditions. Botanists agreed that it was a hybrid between Lavandula angustifolia and L. latifolia, and named the whole group, including those Dutch lavenders, Lavandula x intermedia.
Searching for a name to distinguish these plants like ‘Grosso’ from the older varieties and species, French growers came up with ‘Lavandin’, and that name has caught on in English-speaking countries too. It takes only 100 pounds of its flowers to make a liter of the essential oil, compared to over 200 pounds for the ‘true’ lavender, which is what the French call Lavandula angustifolia. You can see why the growers love it, although only true lavender oil can be given the coveted, and protected, “Lavande de Haute-Provence” label. Top perfumiers use only that, but for most purposes Lavandin oil is perfect. ‘Grosso’ grows to about 30 inches tall, with dense spikes of rich purple flowers – as show at the top of this blog. It blooms from June to September under ideal conditions. Other names, like ‘Dilly Dilly’, ‘Wilson’s Giant’ and ‘Wilson Grant’ are sometimes given to it, but they are all just ‘Grosso’.
Other Lavandin Plants
As often happens with plants, once widely distributed, more changes started to happen. Here in America, Lloyd Traven, the owner of Peace Tree Farm in Kintnersville, Pennsylvania found a unique plant among a field of ‘Grosso’. This was in 2007, and he noticed that this plant was more compact, with better disease resistance and a longer bloom period. He named it ‘Nikko’ and patented it in 2014. This name is rarely used, and it is most often available, including form the Tree Center, as Phenomenal Lavendin.
Just to further complicate the story, we do know that North America can lay claim to an earlier discovery of this cross. A plant called Blue Lavandin (‘Provence’) was probably developed in western Canada in the 1950s. It first arrived in America from Alpenglow Gardens in British Columbia. Its also a robust and vigorous plant, with flowers at the blue end of purple, rather than the dark purple of ‘Grosso’ or Phenomenal.
Why Choose Lavandin?
If you want reliable hardiness and larger bushes, then Lavandin – with its ‘hybrid vigor’ – is the way to go. It is more adaptable to different climates, both hot and cold, than others, and gives you the bold look in your garden that only lavender bushes can bring. So now you know that ‘Lavandin’ is a real thing, not just an alternative word, and it’s a plant you can definitely use in your own garden.