It was the flood that did for it. Two weeks up to your neck in water is a less than pleasant experience for anyone, and when the chilly tide crept towards the house over Christmas two years ago, we wondered whether the lavender would survive the most un-Mediterrannean conditions. After a fashion, it did – but by the time of that damp event, the plants within the double hedge flanking the path were already eight years old, and had suffered a two year period where, busier at work than in the garden, I had foolishly permitted them to grow out of their soft, juvenile curves into lanky adolescence. Thus the lavender, not renowned for its longevity, limped through another couple of years on our heavy soil, looking like some frightful sculpture, twin rows of cadaverous angularity, bleached bones with sparse scatterings of blue-grey hair. Sentimentality can lead to cruel indulgences – I should have administered the coup de grâce last year. It would have been kinder.
Ten years isn’t a bad innings. A decade of colour and scent, of sharing our space with delighted bees. That wonderful week in July when the red Crocosmia breaks out and arches over the mauve stripes, that period in late summer where the flowers mingle with the metallic sheen of the Deschampsia in the evening light. The buckets of fresh lavender we cut – far more than we knew what to do with, the smell of bunches drying in the shed, the sweet scent of cuttings on the first bonfire of autumn.
It’s gone now, grubbed out and waiting for a still evening and a swift blaze. Now I can get into the path edges and weed properly, something that had become increasingly awkward as the hedge lollopped around. Another reason to keep it in neat, disciplined, mounds – very controlled, very British. I’m toying with not replacing it – but I don’t fancy my resolve. I think we might try a different variety – Lavendula angustifolia 'Maillette' was the original, an oil-rich strain with long mid-purple flowers to 7 or 8cm, above grey foliage, growing to an overall height of 60cm – not far off some of the more vigorous x angustifolia, the lavendins. Perhaps we’ll opt for 'Peter Pan', a good 15cm lower, with considerably shorter flowers – it should knit itself into a perfect hedge. A few weeks yet till the nursery starts shipping plants, so time to mull things over. Let’s see if I feel like buying myself a birthday present.