Round Robin: Fact and Fiction

NEWBERG, Oregon–The British are coming! The British are coming! Or so it seems. My favorite bookstore is filled with a wealth of new herb books from England. Many of these have more photo­graphs than older ones, which greatly aid in plant identification. I am glad to see that some address herb-garden design and emphasize incorporating herbs into the perennial garden and border.

National collections have been established throughout England to ­preserve various plant genera. To my delight, there are now national collections of thymes (hosted by Hexham Herbs, Chesters Walled Garden, Chollerford, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 4BQ, UK), sages (hosted by Pleasant View Nursery, Two Mile Oak, Nr. Denbury, Newton Abbott, Devon TQ12 6DG, UK), and lavenders (Jersey Lavender Ltd., Rue du Pont Marquet, St. Brelade, Jersey, Channel ­Islands, UK). The first two offer booklets listing the species and varieties with descriptions and cultural needs. Lavender enthusiasts may wish to subscribe to a newsletter titled The Lavender Bag (contact Joan Head, 6 Church Gate, Clipston-on-the-Wolds, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5PA, UK). Realizing that so many new varieties and species of lavender in the world are presently unavailable in the United States is a bittersweet feeling. I guess that is what spurs on the collector–the elusive ones!

I am always overjoyed to acquire a new lavender, no matter where it ­originates. Last fall, I was surprised at how many of my new Lavandula angustifolia varieties were reblooming in mid-­October. Backhouse Nana, Betty’s Blue, Summerland Supreme, Pastor’s Pride, Sharon Roberts, Tucker’s Early Purple, Baby Blue, and Buena Vista all put on an impressive show. Most surprising to me was that all had very dark purple flowers similar to or better than the renowned British import Hidcote.

These new lavender cultivars are definitely worth looking for in the approaching season, from mail-order sources if they aren’t available locally. I know that I can always find space for a new herb in my garden. Even their names are wonderfully evocative. In a mischievous moment, I made up this lavender fable:

Once upon a time in the land of Summerland Supreme, there lived two sisters, Sharon and Betty, near the road to Buena Vista. As it happened, they fell in love with the same man, Friar Tuck, a clergyman. Neither sister told the other of her love interest. However, some months later, the sweet maid Sharon Roberts with the help of the midwife, Backhouse Nana, gave birth to the beautiful though premature Baby Blue. No one in the village knew the identity of the child’s father, but all noted Betty’s Blue and the unquestionable smirk of the Pastor’s Pride as he walked along the village roads.