It may be surprising to learn that lavender is part of the mint family, known as Lamiaceae. This evergreen flowering shrub evokes images of romantic fields shimmering with a purple hue. It has been a popular plant for centuries; even the Ancient Romans used it to scent their baths.
Lavender (Lavandula) has silvery grey-green leaves with small flowers held up by long spikes. Lavender flowers may be purple, lilac, blue, violet, white, or pink. The most iconic color is the purple variety. There are 47 different species of lavender with more than 450 varieties.
Lavender grows naturally in countries around the Mediterranean but can also be found in India and some parts of North Africa. The most commonly cultivated lavender is English Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia).
Lavender is synonymous with its sweet soothing scent. It is used in soaps, perfumes, balms, and creams. In a garden, the delicate scent of lavender wafts in the air, enhancing the gardening experience.
Lavender is used medicinally to treat headaches, anxiety, and fatigue. It can be used as an antiseptic to clean wounds and is often applied to pimples and acne. Fungal infections and eczema are also targeted by lavender.
There are numerous plants that look like lavender. They can be used as replacement plants if it is impossible to grow lavender. These similar plants may be grown alongside lavender to enhance the effect of swashes of color.
- Verbena (Vervain)
- False Indigo
Salvia officinalis is more commonly known as sage and belongs to the same family of plants as lavender. Common sage has similar colors to lavender. It has green or grey-green pebbled leaves that feel slightly hairy. There are many different varieties of sage to choose from.
Common sage has blue to purple flowers that grow on upright spikes. Sage is an aromatic plant adding to garden scents. Common sage has a smell that slightly resembles camphor. It has been used in medicine and food for centuries. Salvia nemorosa and Salvia x sylvestris are another two kinds of sage similar to lavender.
Like lavender, sage grows best in full sun in well-drained soil. It can be grown from seeds or cuttings. Although sage is relatively drought tolerant, it does best when consistently watered. It does not survive cold, wet winters or frost, but fallen seeds will readily grow again in the spring.
Rosemary is another plant from the Lamiaceae family. Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus) is a low-growing perennial shrub with linear leaves like lavender. The top side of the leaf is green, and the underside is silvery white. The leaf margins curl, allowing the edges of the leaf underside to show. This creates a two-toned appearance on the leaf.
Rosemary has small lilac-purple flowers situated between the leaves. Like Lavender, it is native to countries bordering the Mediterranean. Rosemary has been used for medicinal purposes, as an insect repellent, and for flavoring food. It has a distinctive pleasant smell and attracts bees and insects to the garden.
Rosemary is more cold-tolerant than lavender and will survive frosts. It is a drought-hardy plant that can grow in hot climates. These characteristics make it a good plant to substitute for lavender if your climate is hot and dry.
Catmint is the common name of nepeta plants. There are approximately two hundred and fifty species of nepeta. Catmint belongs to the Lamiaceae family and grows wild in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Most catmint plants are herbaceous perennials, but some occur as annuals.
Catmint has slivery green or greyish foliage. Clusters of small tubular flowers form a flower spike. The flowers may be deep purple, lilac, or blue, and there are some white and pink varieties. Catmint has a long blooming season lasting from spring to fall, providing consistent garden color.
Catmint is a hardy, resilient plant that can withstand droughts and repels insect pests. It attracts moths, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to the garden. Catmint is an aromatic herb that induces euphoria in cats. It grows in full sun but may be planted in areas with afternoon shade in hot regions.
Hyssop (Hyssop Officinalis) is also a part of the mint family. It is a perennial herb that grows naturally from Southern Europe to Central Asia. It has bright or dark green narrow leaves. Different varieties grow to different heights, and dwarf hyssop is popular as a bed filler.
Hyssop has small violet or purple flowers that grow on a flower spike. Some cultivars have pink or white flowers. Hyssop has aromatic oils that repel insect pests but attract pollinators. It has been used in traditional medicines and as a flavoring herb in cooking.
Hyssop can be grown from seeds, divided plants, or cuttings. Hyssop prefers well-draining soil and can be grown in rich fertile loam or sandy soil. Once established, hyssop is drought tolerant. It is happiest growing in full sun.
5. Verbena (Vervain)
Verbena is the name usually used in the United States, and vervain is used elsewhere. The plant belongs to the family Verbenaceae. There are multiple species which may be perennial or annual. Verbena is native to North and South America.
Verbena has green, three-lobed, toothed leaves that may be hairy. Like lavender, the flowers grow on spikes. They are small flowers with five petals that occur densely packed on the spikes. The flowers may be blue, purple, pink, or white.
Verbena attracts butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds with its nectar. It requires well-drained soil, and although it may be grown in sandy soil, it does better in richer soil. Verbena enjoys heat, so it is best planted in a sunny area.
Heather is a plant similar to lavender and is most commonly associated with Scotland. It is native to Europe, Britain, Asia, Greenland, and North America. It is the principal plant found in many areas and provides food for a variety of wildlife. Heather belongs to the Ericaceae plant family.
Heather has small scale leaves arranged in pairs around the stem. The delicate bell-shaped flowers grow on spikes and range in color from purple to pink. Heather is cold-tolerant and not only survives but flourishes in icy weather.
On windy slopes, heather plants remain small, only a few inches tall. It can grow to approximately three feet in sheltered areas. Heather formed an important material in the construction of homes and animal sheds in previous eras. Heather has a distinctive woody or mossy smell.
7. False Indigo
False indigo is a plant native to North America. It is also known as Blue Wild Indigo. False indigo (Baptisia australis) is a perennial legume. Despite its Latin name, it is indigenous to the eastern half of North America. Sap in the stem becomes blue when exposed to air, and it was used as an alternative dye to true indigo.
The leaves are blue-green, and the plant can grow three to four feet tall if planted in ideal conditions. Garden varieties are often smaller. Long racemes or spikes bear flowers that can be pale blue, lilac, or an intense violet. The flowers are similar to pea flowers in shape.
False indigo grows well and flowers best when planted in sunny spots in the garden. It tolerates light shade, but fewer flowers may be produced. Well-drained alkaline soils provide the best medium to produce healthy false indigo plants with many flowers.
False indigo has a deep tap root with extensive side roots, which should be considered when choosing a planting site. Native Americans planted false indigo next to corrals or stables to repel flies.