The difference between English and French Lavenders

Ask a gardener to name a region famous for Lavender and the chances are the answer will be either ‘Norfolk’ or ‘Provence’. Fitting, then that the two main types of Lavender are English (Lavendula angustifolia), and French (Lavendula stoechas) – the name comes from ‘Stochades’ the ancient Roman name for the island of Hyeres where it was commonly found – and used to perfume their baths…

Generally, one of our Posts looking at alternative varieties will take the form of a ‘which is better’ comparison. But in this case the debate appears to have been settled many years ago and today’s most popular varieties of Lavender are all hybrids or cultivars of English Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) including:various lavenders, French and English

• Alba
• Dwarf Blue
• Grosso
• Hidcote
• Imperial Gem
• Richard Gray (picture top)
• Twickle Purple

Of these, Richard Gray (Lavandula × Chaytoriae ‘Richard Gray’) has the most international parentage -. a distinctive hybrid of Lavandula Angustifolia and Lavandula Lanata (Woolly Lavender), a shrubby native of southern Spain.

But why have British gardeners all but spurned French Lavender? In terms of aesthetic appeal, neither can claim inherent superiority: French lavenders have dense, cone-shape flowers ranging from purple, lavender to pink while English Lavenders offer bud-like flowers on taller stems in blue, white, lavender or purple. Their foliage varies too: the leaves on English Lavenders are smooth and narrow while those of French varieties are edged with square teeth – hence ‘dentata’, the name of another well-known French variety.

Both grow to similar sizes and though some French varieties flower for longer periods, English Lavenders still put on a display lasting many, many weeks and planting a selection of English varieties will provide a sympathetic display lasting from spring to late summer.

  1. In the end, then, the preference for English Lavender comes down to two things: practicality and fragrance…
    English Lavender is generally considered easier to grow and can withstand drier conditions than French Lavender
  2. English Lavenders are also hardier and much better able to withstand the cold than their French counterparts
  3. Although French Lavenders have a pleasant fragrance, it can be more reminiscent of Rosemary than of the classic Lavender scent provided by English varieties
  4. The oil produced by English Lavenders is of a much higher quality