Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Seed gift leads to thrilling discovery

Early this spring, an intriguing garden mystery arrived in the form of an envelope containing packets of gift seeds from a major Canadian seed company. It had somehow come to their attention that I had mentioned them as a good source for seeds that a reader had inquired about.

The gift seeds were an expression of their appreciation. Among them were basil, nasturtium, a new impatiens colour mixture, and a packet labelled “Lavender Oregano.” Which was it, I wondered — lavender, or oregano? The back of the packet had the answer, identifying its contents as seeds for “a strain of true English lavender.” No hint of where “oregano” came into the picture.

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I became even more intrigued when the seeds germinated and quickly formed plump little transplants with silvery, fern-like leaves that had a distinct oregano fragrance. The plants grew so fast I soon had to cut them back. That’s the story around here this spring: So many transplants; so little time. It’s been a struggle to get all of them into the ground before they climbed out of the flats on their own.

As I searched for the plant’s name, I found among the lavenders in the Chiltern Seeds catalogue a listing for Lavandula multifida. Two common names are given: fernleaf lavender and oregano-scented lavender.

The catalogue describes fernleaf lavender as a shrubby plant coming from stony places near the Mediterranean in Spain and Italy. “It bears in early summer spikes of violet-blue flowers.” They note it can be treated as an annual.

The catalogue also lists Spanish Eyes, a “very free-flowering, fast-growing variety of the popular L. multifida.” It is described as having “an especially long flowering period, possibly the longest of any lavender. The beautiful blue flowers are complemented by lovely soft-textured and finely cut, fernleaf foliage. Perfectly suited for planting in tubs.” Spanish Eyes is shorter, at 60 cm, than the metre-tall species.

I’ll certainly be trying Spanish Eyes next year. Meanwhile, I’ll be growing some of the fernleaf lavender transplants in a narrow bed alongside the driveway, where other lavenders are doing fine in less than plush conditions. Like most lavenders and other Mediterranean herbs, this one should be fine in a neutral to slightly alkaline, dryish soil in full sun.

How the plants fare over the winter will be telling. They are reputed to be hardy only to — 6 C. They’ll have a fair chance at survival in the fast-draining, sandy soil of my garden, depending on the harshness of the winter.

Even if the combination of cold and wet winter conditions kills the plants, replacements are easy and inexpensive to grow from seed in the spring. I plan in the future to use them as both container and bedding plants. Even this year I’m potting a few for a friend who has admired them. She has an extensive container garden on her deck.

Nothing is more thrilling for a gardener than to discover a new plant, especially one that grows so easily and with remarkable verve into an aromatic, comely specimen.


Dreams, anyone? Am I alone in having really weird and vivid dreams during these tense times? Here’s the most bizarre one: Brad Pitt and a crew of workers appear to clean up and beautify the garden. They work with me, sorting out various deficiencies in the landscape.

In the dream’s final scene, they are taking a break. Pitt is leaning back in a chair, joking and laughing, winsome dimples flashing. The garden never was so entrancing.

Then I woke up.


Help from Master Gardeners. Victoria Master Gardeners are offering answers to questions about all aspects of gardening. They will do this over the phone, by email, text, or other “virtual” means. Email info@msvmga.org. On their website (victoriamastergardeners.org) is a section of answers to questions asked at their clinics. Access it by clicking on You Asked Us.


Plant sales. The Friends of Government House Gardens Society are pleased to announce that the Plant Nursery will be opening to the public from Tuesday thru Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. We would ask that people wear masks and maintain social distancing as many of the volunteers are in the most vulnerable age category. To welcome you back to the gardens most of the plants will be sold for $5.00. We will be accepting debit and credit cards only.

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