Lavender cotton - a touch of the Mediterranean
Monday, 3 September 2018
Written by Deb Delahunty, Horticulture teacher at Wodonga TAFE
Lavender Cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is a touch of the Mediterranean. An evergreen shrub, this plant is favoured for its dense, silvery-grey foliage and for its tolerance to drought. Its most common use is as a small hedge around herb or knot gardens but it’s also attractive as a single specimen in a garden. The foliage is extremely decorative and a plant or two in a heavy green garden will do wonders. This plant grows to about 60cm high and spreads to about 90cm becoming a broad, dense mound of silver leaves.
This plant is easily pruned and it responds well to being clipped. I suggest you shape your specimens in spring or summer. You can also give a gentle prune any time the plant is becoming a bit straggly or uneven. The yellow button-like flowers appear in summer, often they’re not wanted because the plants foliage is the attraction – so you can just prune them off – or you can leave them if you like them. Pruning is important – unpruned this plant tends to become a bit woody and open in the centre. Pruning, even if it’s only once a year will stop this happening. You can be quite brutal when you prune and you can take the whole plant back to 10 – 20 centimetres.
The Lavender Cotton prefers an open, sunny position and grows best in a well-drained soil. What it doesn’t like is a rich or a wet soil – avoid these at all costs if you’re planting Santolina. This plant is great as an accent plant and can be used in borders, rock gardens, containers or as a small hedge. A few references mention that it’s rabbit resistant, I’m not certain about that – those pesky varmints will eat just about anything.
The Santolina is also fragrant. The smell is in the foliage and dried leaves can be added to potpourri. Many years ago Santolina was used as a strewing herb. Strewing herbs were scattered about the floor in the days when people and animals often shared the same area and cleanliness was poor. Strewing herbs masked bad smells and repelled insects, Santolina has both traits and was mixed with other plants such as Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Lavender and Mint to make life bearable. We no longer need strewing herbs because we wash our floors regularly but perfumed plants like Santolina are still valuable in the garden.
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Photo: Close up of Santolina foliage. A splash of silver in the garden will add contrast to the usual swathe of greens.