For me, this is a bit like being asked to choose between my children. It’s one thing to say which is the tallest or eldest, quite another to say which is, say, better company…
However, Imperial Gem (left) and Hidcote (right) are locked into a kind of popularity contest. Hidcote is a great lavender – if it weren’t, we wouldn’t grow it – and certainly one of the most popular dwarf varieties. Its direct connection to Hidcote Manor, the most glorious Arts and Crafts garden in the UK and where the plant was selected and planted around 1910by the then new American owner of the estate, Lawrence Johnston, gives it further resonance for British gardeners. Plant Hidcote in your garden and, somehow, you’re planting your own piece of a bygone heyday of English country gardening.
But Hidcote does have the slight (and I mean ‘slight’) disadvantage of not being quite as robust as many other Lavenders . If left unprotected and exposed, it could succumb to a severe frost. But, for decades that was simply the price of having such a stunning little plant in your garden and a risk all gardeners understandably thought well worth taking.
Then, in the late 1980s, Imperial Gem came along. It immediately caught the eye because it looked so similar to Hidcote. And when it became known that it was slightly hardier, more vigorous and a little taller, rivalry was inevitable.
How to choose the right lavender?
There is one scenario with a clear-cut answer – if your garden is exposed and/or prone to frosts, then choose Imperial Gem. If, however, you (like many, if not most, gardeners) can accommodate plants that aren’t totally hardy, then you can choose completely subjectively. Go for tradition (Hidcote) or an excellent example of modern plant breeding (Imperial Gem) or, of course, both.
As you will see from the next couple of posts, there is very little to differentiate two of the great English garden plants…