Lavender in Tennessee?

Posted by Wooly Dragon on

I love to garden and I love flowers, especially the ones that smell great! I am especially keen on growing flowers (and flowering herbs) that my bees can utilize.
One of my favorites is lavender. Maybe it's because of my British heritage, but nothing beats the smell of lavender and the bees like it too. There's only one problem; lavender can be fussy about where it likes to grow. This is what I'd like to have growing in my garden...
And seeing images like this...
Alas, lavender likes light, well-drained soil and low humidity. East Tennessee doesn't have a lot of that. Generally, we deal with heavy clay soils that dry into concrete, but stay wet during rainy times which leads to root rot. We also routinely experience high humidity which leads to mold & mildew on some plants. My garden area has a lot of clay and shale rock with a tiny layer of topsoil, so I have resorted to using raised beds.
I have purchased lavender plants. I have grown lavender from seed. I've tried English lavender, French, Spanish, etc. They all seem to grow well the first year and then die over the winter or survive the winter, only to languish during the next summer. Rarely do they survive 2 full years, so I grow them as annuals and hope they come back. Any flowers produced are few in number and with short stems. In 2018, I built a raised bed specifically for lavender and filled it with sandy loam to increase drainage to the max. Most of the lavender plants in it are still alive, but not growing as robustly as I'd hoped.
Then, I saw a new kind of lavender advertised in my plant & seed catalogs, called "Phenomenal". It was advertised to be tolerant of cold weather, hot weather and high humidity. I took a chance and bought a plant in 2019. It arrived by mail in a 4" pot and I dutifully planted it in my lavender bed.
It grew and produced flowers over the summer, but so had all of the other lavender plants I'd grown. Then came Fall/Winter and the cold, wet weather typical of my area. Most of my other lavenders looked brown and dead; Phenomenal stayed green...all winter, without any dead bits. Spring came. Some of the other lavenders survived and started greening up; Phenomenal continued growing; the plant, that one year previously was 4" in diameter, was now 2 feet wide and tall. Summer came and all of the lavenders started blooming; Phenomenal had more blooms than all of the other plants combined.
I collected a bunch of lavender sprigs, but left some for the bees to enjoy.
Needless to say, I am jazzed about Phenomenal! Cross your fingers that it survives the winter and continues to outshine the other lavenders. If it does, I may try to root some of it for more plants next year. Stay tuned!
Addendum #1: The winter of 2020/21 was pretty brutal here in TN. In fact, it was pretty brutal everywhere. As of March 2021, my Phenomenal lavender doesn't look as pretty as it did the previous year, but it is still alive. Several of my regular lavenders did not make, unfortunately.
Addendum #2: Phenomenal continued to thrive and made it through winter 2021/22. This year, I will try rooting cuttings of Phenomenal and expanding my lavender quota!
If you are interested in this lavender variety, it can be purchased at big box stores, like Lowes, Home Depot or Walmart or online. I bought my plant from Park Seeds.

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