Like many gardeners, I take the “old standbys” for granted and sometimes neglect to even include them in my planting plans in the spring. Later I regret my decision and last summer Mother Nature came to my rescue. I had not planted any lavatera in my garden, but a few self-seeded volunteers appeared in the front flower bed in June and they bloomed profusely in late summer. Even though they were not in my planting plan I left them and although things were a little crowded, their wonderful blooms opened above the foliage of the surrounding plants to put on a lovely display.
Lavatera is a member of the mallow family and has the characteristic mallow-shaped blooms, which are single and cup shaped. The flowers are white or various shades of pink. One well-known pink variety is L. “Silver Cup” while the best-known white variety is
L. “Mount Blanc.” These lavatera varieties grow over a metre in height so they are quite large plants and take up a lot of space. There are smaller varieties offered for sale as bedding plants, and these are usually used in public plantings, because their shorter stature makes them easier to incorporate into a bed or border.
L. “Novella,” at about 65 cm, comes in white and pink, while
L. “Ruby Regis” is a darker-cerise pink and also grows 65 cm tall; the shortest variety is the “Twins” series which grows only about 50 cm tall.
Lavatera blooms have a waxy sheen to them, giving them a satiny appearance. No other annual flower produces such a pure-white bloom as white lavatera and its blooms are often used in horticultural shows in classes calling for white flowers. Lavatera is easy to grow and even when seeded directly in the garden, the plants will be in full bloom by mid-July. It is advisable not to plant seed too early if you are starting them indoors, because lavatera grows quickly and the seedlings will soon become too tall and leggy to be much good.
Shorter lavatera varieties are used along walks, mass planted or used in containers, while taller varieties are better suited for use at the back of a mixed border or in a vegetable patch to add a dash of colour. Lavatera will grow in ordinary garden soil and is not particularly tender or delicate. It will withstand late-spring and early-fall frosts.
Clumps of three white lavatera plants scattered here and there in a flower border add that bit of white that every well-planned border contains. They also are used as separators or dividers between other flowers whose colour may not be particularly harmonious when planted side by side, and the bright-pink varieties add a jolt of colour. I like to locate some blue or violet flowers next to the clumps of pink lavatera – plants like speed-wells and sages, or some of the taller ageratums. This colour combination is very pleasing.
Lavatera makes good cut flowers although they do not have a particularly long vase life. I have used them successfully in competitions when I have created arrangements the day before a show and they have stood up well until the end of the show the following day. Although it is a common “old-fashioned” flower, lavatera is well worth including in the garden. It adds bright colour for the last part of the gardening season and if you are like me and do not deadhead meticulously, it may grow in your garden every year as a welcome, self-seeded surprise.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba
Lavateraisamemberof themallowfamilyand hasthecharacteristic mallow-shapedblooms, whicharesingle andcupshaped.