Putting Lavender To The Test
Lavender conjures different ideas and images for different people. It has played a diverse role in peoples' lives: from culinary ingredient to medicinal product to aromatic component. Lavender has been cultivated for thousands of years and is one of the most popular perennials grown on the West Coast.
Lavandula 'Otto Quast' has been a staple variety grown and sold for many years. It is not uncommon to see this variety planted en masse in nature strips and commercial landscapes. 'Otto Quast' is a typical foundation plant for any Mediterranean or drought-tolerant garden. Over the past five years or so, breeders have gotten their hands on this underdeveloped species, and as a result, we have seen a wealth of new genetics hitting the market. Some improvements in these new varieties include earlier flowering, improved habits, including both compact forms and larger forms, and of course, color range. Our goal at Pacific Plug & Liner was to compare these new genetics at Pack Trials 2006 and see how they stood up to tried-and-true classics like 'Otto Quast'.
The results were very subjective; some people, especially large growers, put a lot of emphasis on cost. We had more than 40 cultivars in the trial, many with royalties attached to them. Costs ranged from no royalty to $.50 per cutting. The range in habits was also obvious; we had product that was very compact, only suitable for 4-inch production, as well as large, vigorous varieties that were appropriate for 2-gal. or 10-inch cache production. There was also a large range in flower color. Just within the purple color class, we displayed plants that were royal purple, light violet and everything in between. There was no clear winner to the comparison, but there were some standout cultivars.
'Blueberry Ruffles' (Plant Haven). A newcomer to the lavender market, bred by Plant Growers Australia and licensed in North America by Plant Haven, this medium-vigor variety showed really well in our trial. It was not the first to bloom, but when it did, it came on full steam. The plant had superior uniformity in growth and a tremendous flower count. What set it apart from other varieties was a unique pink tinge on top of the light-violet bracts. This variety, with its compact, controlled habit, is ideal for 4- and 6-inch production.
'Coco Purple' (Ball FloraPlant). 'Coco Purple' is another Australian-bred selection in its second year on the market. The Coco series is available from Ball FloraPlant via Ball Seed Co. Cocos are one of the most vigorous series we trialed, and 'Coco Purple' really stood out from the crowd. This vigorous variety filled a 1-gal. container with little effort. Topped with large, dark-purple blooms, Coco proved to be one of the earliest to flower in the trial. Coco would be ideal in a larger container program, such as 10-inch cache pots, where it can really be admired in its full glory.
'Madrid Purple' (Bodger Botanicals). The Madrid series has probably been on the market the longest. It was one of the first to be touted as superior to 'Otto Quast'. 'Madrid Purple' has been a strong variety in the market, and it proved still to be one of the best. 'Madrid Purple' is a medium-vigor variety ideal for 6-inch or 1-gal. production; however, it does have enough vigor to easily fill larger containers. Its upright and controlled habit is a clear advantage over floppier varieties like 'Otto Quast'.
'Marshwood'. 'Marshwood' was bred in New Zealand and made its way stateside via a central coast nurseryman. This variety is protected with a plant patent in many parts of the world but not in the United States. We were fortunate to show this variety in the trial, and it really gained a lot of attention. 'Marshwood' was distinguishable because of its silver-colored leaves that were topped with huge, light-purple flowers. It was one of the most talked about varieties in the trial, and the no-royalty part made it even more beautiful for some people. This variety is on the large size and is best grown in a 6- or 10-inch program.
'Winter Lace' (Plant Haven). Another series from Plant Growers Australia, Lace is the larger cousin to the more compact Ruffles series. 'Winter Lace' proved to be one of biggest varieties in the trial, with some of the largest flowers as well. This plant had huge, dark purple flowers that are sure to stand out in any landscape. This variety is again ideal in a 10-inch or larger program where it could really be admired at its full potential.
'Barcelona Rose' (Bodger Botanicals). Barcelonas are the more compact cousins to the Madrid series, both from Bodger Botanicals. 'Barcelona Rose' has a very controlled, compact habit but enough vigor to fill a 1-gal. or larger container. 'Barcelona Rose' has large, intense pink flowers held tightly against the foliage, making it ideal for higher density production.
'Coco Dark Pink' (Ball FloraPlant). 'Coco Dark Pink', like its counterpart 'Coco Purple', proved to be one of the largest varieties in the trial. 'Coco Dark Pink' also had one of the largest flowers in the trial, unusual in the pink color range. 'Coco Dark Pink' showed nicely in a 1-gal. container and is one of the few pink varieties that would work in a 10-inch program with only one plant per pot.
There was a lot to compare at our trial, and the results were varied depending on who you talked to. One thing was clear: there is something for everybody. Recent developments have brought an already popular genus to the attention of even more people, and there is exciting talk about what's on the horizon in lavender, meaning this genus will stay at the forefront for years to come.