There are dozens of lavender species, some of which date back to the days of the ancient Egyptians and Phoenicians. You can grow different types of lavender anywhere in the garden, as pretty borders, in herb gardens, or even for low, informal hedges. English and French lavender are two top favorites, but other popular types include Dutch and Spanish lavender.
While all types of lavender have strong similarities, they also have big differences. One major difference between English and French lavender is that the English variety does well in cold climates while French lavender doesn’t like cold weather. Also, English lavender lives up to 15 years while French lavender only lives to about 5 years.
Is French lavender better than English lavender?
Lavender is one of the most popular plants in the world. Gardeners love it for different reasons. So when you try to assess whether English or French lavender is better than the other, it comes down to what you are looking for.
For example, if you want lavender that has a strong smell, choose French lavender. English lavender has a much lighter scent. If you want a super-hardy variety, English lavender species are the toughest.
Your climate will also determine whether French or English lavender is best for your garden. While both are easy to grow, English lavender grows where there is wind, cold temperatures, and drier conditions.
People into herb gardening in the UK traditionally plant English lavender with its gray-green foliage and whorls of tiny flowers. If you want to plant lavender in pots, both types of lavender do well.
Difference Between French Lavender vs English Lavender
Before we talk about the differences between French and English lavender, here is something to be aware of. Lavandula angustifolia, which is the formal name for English lavender, isn’t from England. And Lavandula stoechas or Lavandula Dentata isn’t from France, it’s native to Spain.
English lavender is from the mountains of the Mediterranean region. The reason we call it English lavender is because it has been widely used as a perfume for English royals over the centuries.
Because it’s native to Spain, French lavender is also from the Mediterranean. The reason we call Spanish lavender French lavender is also linked to the perfume industry. Spanish lavender is used to make French (not Spanish) perfume!
The flowers and leaves of English and French lavender are not the same. English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, also known as common lavender, produces narrow gray-green leaves that have a lovely aromatic smell.
Common lavender has small, light purple flowers that form dense heads in summer. There are many different cultivars including Hidcote, which has darker, even more, compact flower heads.
French lavender, Lavandula stoechas, is notable for its large, leaf-like purple bracts that form above the flower bract. The flowers of the French lavender plant also bloom for much longer than English lavender. It starts blooming in spring and continues to produce flowers right through the summer months.
The shape of the flowers is also different. English lavender has vaguely cone-shaped flowers that form at the top of a long, thin stem. In addition to its coloring, which is distinctly different from English lavender, the purple flowers of French lavender have long loose petals at their tips.
English lavender is a small, compact shrub that will grow to about 2 feet tall (60 cm) in height. French lavender is much bigger and reaches 2-3 feet (61-91 cm) when fully grown.
Both types of lavender smell lovely, but, as mentioned above, French lavender has a stronger smell. This is partly because the plants are larger and they produce more fragrant purple flowers than other types of lavender.
But the smells of different types of lavender are different too. Generally, English lavender has a lighter, sweeter scent that some people liken to rosemary. French lavender smells more like camphor.
Oddly, even though English lavender originated in the warm Mediterranean region, it is cool-hardy. It thrives in the cold English climate and cooler parts of the U.S. English lavenders, Lavandula angustifolia are hardy to the USDA zone 5.
More specifically, when you consider plant hardiness, you will find that Hidcote Superior (which is a type of English lavender) is the most cold-hardy lavender species of them all.
French lavender will usually die in the first frost of winter. If you live in a cold climate, it’s best to grow non-cold-hardy lavender in pots and take them indoors during winter.
Lavender plants need full sun and well-drained soil to thrive. In terms of pH, because lavender prefers alkaline soil, this should be between 6.7 and 7.3.
English lavender will survive in soil that is mildly acidic, but preferably with a pH that isn’t any lower than 6.5. You can test the soil with a pH kit or soil gauge.
To raise the pH, add lime or wood ash to the soil.
How to Choose the Right Lavender
What is your reason for growing lavender? Ultimately, this will determine what you plant.
That said, both have very similar uses. For instance, both types are used for landscaping, but French lavender flowers for longer than the English types.
Both are popular for aromatherapy and are often used for sprays, perfumes, creams, and various household products. Munstead and Hidcote English lavender are both popular for dried flowers.
Even though we are discussing French vs English lavender here, there may be reasons that you will want to choose another type of lavender. For instance, Spanish lavender is a great variety for landscaping rather than for essential oil.
Lavandin, which is a hybrid cultivar, has a gorgeous scent and produces even more essential oil than common English lavender.
French and English lavender species are popular worldwide. Whether you are growing them for essential oils, for low hedges in landscaping, or as part of a herb gardening enterprise, there are types that do well in most USDA zones.
The best thing is that you don’t have to choose one or the other. Why not grow French and English lavender species together?