lavatera

How To Grow and Propagate Lavatera in the Perennial Garden

I really like my Lavatera blooms and as I wander through my gardens this past week, the several species of Lavatera that I am growing are simply stunning.

Origins

It seems that the 17th century Swiss botanist that this plant was named after, J. R. Lavater has been well remembered in my garden. They are obviously well remembered in their native habitats of the N.W. Himalayan Mountains, Eastern Siberia and even warm Australia.

I really like this plant because even though each individual flower is short lived (a day or two at most) my perennial plants are smothered with newly produced flowers for an extended period of time.

Lavatera cachemiriana
L.cachemiriana Image the author

Perennial and Annual

I note that my perennial lavatera plants are different from the L. trimestris annuals that are regularly available in garden centers. I’ll be listing others over time on the main perennial flower page here.

While the annual forms are interesting, I do prefer the perennials with their bush like growth or tall straight stalks.

However, if you are growing the annual forms, look for:

  • ‘Silver Cup’ a bright pink, dwarf bush form to 30″,
  • ‘Loveliness’ with a trumpet shaped rose flower stretching up to 4′ in height,
  • ‘Mont Blanc’ a dwarf 24″tall, with white blossoms or
  • ‘Pink Beauty’ another 30″ plant with wonderfully large, pale pink blooms.

Issues With Lavatera

All these lovely pink flowers have not come without a price however. The seeds are slow and difficult to germinate and I’ve had to experiment with different species to see if they were hardy

L. arborea, known as the tree mallow, has twice failed quite spectacularly in attempts at overwintering. After having gone into the winter in good shape, two years in a row I was left with a grey-brown pile of slushy roots in my garden the following spring. I guess this plant had a dislike of Eastern Ontario winters.

I think if I were to seek out this plant again, I would winter it indoors or in a greenhouse to atone for my past mistakes and try to keep it alive.

Update 2019. I haven’t even tried to do this again as I no longer have greenhouses or cold frames. Plants survive outside (or not).

Self-sowing Variety

One plant that has more than redeemed the above failure has been the L.cachemiriana that now self sows itself enough to be called a bit of a nuisance.

This native of Kashmir is quite hardy in our garden and seems to thrive on a sunny garden spot

It starts life as a rosette of leaves and then the second year it sends one or two shoots skyward to five or six feet in height covering them with 2 inch wide soft pink blossoms. The petal is 5 lobed and a tremendous mid pink that brightens up the garden.

Right now, it is also trying desperately to colonize underneath my crab apple tree without a great deal of real success in this lower light area. I know it will pop up somewhere else in the garden in a year or two to try to take over that space and I’ll wind up thinning it down to 3 or 4 plants again.

A Star Variety

The real star of the show is the L. thuringiaca or Tree Lavatera.
This would be a hardy shrub if we lived in Southern Ohio or Pennsylvania but in my USDA zone 4 garden it is killed back to the ground every winter

In the spring it sends up lots of shoots to 6 or 7 feet (the older plants now resemble a large forsythia) and covers them in mid-summer with an abundance of the typical 5 lobed flowers.

Flowers Short Lived

Lavatera flowers are short lived as well but with hundreds of buds being produced, I’ll have a huge display of flowers almost until the middle of August.

I now have two forms of this plant in our garden.

  • I have the species and I have a cultivar called ‘Barnsley’. The newer ‘Barnsley’ is a darker pink than the species and it has a red throat. It is quite an attractive flower and well worth the search to find it.
  • L. ‘Aurea’ or Golden Leaved Lavatera is a stunning plant in the spring when the golden leaves first emerge. It fade a bit to a yellowy green at the end of the summer. It has the traditional pink blooms and is quite a stunning plant when it reaches full size.
  • L.’Bredon Springs’ has rose-pink flowers and a soft grey-green foliage that is quite attractive when placed next to darker leaved plants in the perennial border.
  • I grew L. tauricensis for two years before I lost it during a mild wet winter but I have to confess that there was some discussion amongst my friends and I about whether it was mislabelled. I’m looking for a good botanically accurate source for this as well. It shared the same flowering form as the L. thuringiaca and was quite showy in the trial bed. I’ll be using a German source of seed next year to try and obtain the right plant.

All other forms of Lavatera are for a much warmer garden than my USDA zone 4, Eastern Ontario garden.

Starting Seed

To start the seed successfully, use Doug’s outdoor pot method

  • Take an old 8″ nursery pot (size is not important although 6–8″ is ideal) and cut the bottom off the pot.
  • Plant the pot. I liked that line but it really means to sink the pot in the ground so only the rim is showing.
  • Fill the bottomless pot with either the soil from the hole or a good quality potting soil.
  • Sterilize the soil by slowly pouring a kettle of boiling water into the pot.
  • Once cool, plant the seeds and cover with only a quarter inch of potting soil.
  • Tag the pot so you don’t forget what you’ve planted and then forget it until next spring.
  • In May, after the winter of dormancy, you should see tiny Lavatera seedlings popping up with their distinctive maple like leaves. If it doesn’t have a maple tree leaf, it is a weed and can be removed

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Resources to Find Material Mentioned on This Page

Lavatera seeds — caution — some are annuals but lovely nevertheless 🙂

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