One hundred years ago, a new English Lavender named ‘Munstead‘ was introduced to Edwardian gardeners. Its name was instantly recognizable: Munstead Wood was the famous Surrey home and garden of Gertrude Jekyll, the premier gardener and garden designer of her time, as well as a noted writer and fine painter.
Miss Jekyll’s fame ensured that Munstead Lavender would find eager buyers, but what has made this selection of Lavandula angustifolia enduringly popular for a century, while hundreds of other Lavender cultivars have come and gone?
First of all, Lavender was one of Miss Jekyll’s very favorite plants. She always paired it with Rosemary in her own gardens, and it is clear from her descriptions that she adored everything about this fragrant, colorful perennial:
Best among all good plants for hot sandy soils are the ever-blessed Lavender and Rosemary, two delicious old garden bushes that one can hardly dissociate, so delightfully do they agree in their homely beauty and their beneficence of enduring fragrance, as well as in their love of the sun and their power of resisting drought.
Tellingly, Lavender features in Miss Jekyll’s chapter titled “Plants for Poor Soils” in her 1900 volume Home and Garden. In her gardens, the natural features of the landscape are always celebrated rather than amended or corrected, so for infertile and rocky soils she imagines an explosion of color and texture:
In the most sun-baked spot I would have, on a rocky shelf and hanging over it, a wide planting of . . . Barbary Ragwort, Lavender and Rosemary . . . It would suit the character of most of these plants to show between them some small stretches of bare sandy soil and bare rock, varied with an undergrowth of the sun-loving Heathers, Lavender-Cotton, and the aromatic Artemisias, in wide plantings and long drifts, always faithfully following the run of the rocks.
But Miss Jekyll was also a realist, growing all sorts of useful herbs and vegetables as well as ornamental plants. She remarks that Lavender belongs in “the region where pleasure garden meets working garden,” and confesses, “Of Lavender I always arrange to have two hedges of a good bearing age, plus a number of bushes here and there.” She recommends scattering Lavender in all lights from from full sun to light shade, so that each plant might have a slightly different bloom time, extending the season. Was it this that perhaps led her to develop Lavender Munstead, with its more compact habit and earlier season of bloom?
Munstead Lavender wowed gardeners
in 1916 for the same reasons we love it today: it is beautifully rounded and very well-branched, packed with color and fragrance. Just 2 feet wide and no more than 18 inches high in full bloom, it’s perfect to pop into containers, squeeze into the foundation planting, and dot among scent-less annuals in the garden bed. Or you can use the Jekyll approach, planting great swathes of color! It loves areas such as the baking-hot driveway, parched sidewalk island, bare rocky slopes and eroded banks.
Munstead is evergreen, asking only for a light pruning in early spring to set fresh wands of lavender-blue from midsummer until fall. When the flowers finish, deadhead the stalks for heaviest rebloom.
Most of all, Munstead is adaptable. Challenging garden spots have met their match in this sun- and dry-soil lover! If you live in zones 5-9, it will overwinter effortlessly. If you are outside its hardiness range, do grow it as an annual. The rewards of Lavender are too great to miss in any climate!