English vs. French Lavender – What’s the Difference?

There are many types of lavender, but two of the most famous are French and English lavender. Depending on the circumstances, each type has its pros and cons so if you’re interested in growing lavender in your garden, but you’re not sure which one to choose, knowing the differences between the two types can be useful.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the differences between French and English lavender and we’ll also be comparing the two to make the choice easier.

French Lavender

french lavender in a jar

French lavender is a Mediterranean plant, reported to have originated in southern Europe. However, it grows in abundance in southern and central Italy, Greece, France and Spain. The essential oil of this plant is one of the main ingredients of many health and cosmetic products.

Lavender is valued for its medicinal and strong antibacterial properties. It can be used for the treatment of anxiety, hair loss, fungal infections and certain types of wounds.  

Some of the most common and popular varieties of French lavender include the following:

1. Provence Lavender

Named after the town of Provence, France, this variety of French lavender is one of the best to grow in humid summers. Its fragrance is one of the strongest and it’s also one of the best lavenders to grow into hedges. Provence lavender grows up to 3 feet tall and is quite hardy due to the fact that it’s a hybrid variety, created by combining the hardiness of English lavender with the heat tolerance of Portuguese lavender.

2. Fred Boutin Lavender

This type of lavender has paler leaves and much paler flowers than Provence lavender. It’s grown mostly for ornamental purposes and looks stunning lining pathways. It’s one of the easier types of lavender to grow since it’s quite hardy and doesn’t require much maintenance.

3. Grosso Lavender

Another hybrid variety between broadleaf lavender and English lavender, Grosso plants are extremely heat and tolerant. They also have huge flower heads and their fragrance is very rich. Gross lavender blooms are very popular for crafting and the flower stems are usually gathered to make lavender wands or bouquets. The blossoms, when dried, give off a strong scent, making them an important addition to potpourris.

English Lavender

english lavender and oil

English lavender is native to the western Mediterranean and the mountains of northern Spain. It lives for about 15 to 20 years and the oil extracted from this plant is extensively used in the cosmetics industry.

English lavender oil is used for painting on porcelain dishes. It also has antibacterial as well as antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can be effective in treating minor burns and insect bites. Research has shown that this plant may also play a role in the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, depression and fatigue.

There are various types of English lavender, but the most common ones are as follows:

1. Hidcote Lavender

This variety of lavender is free flowering and is value by most gardeners for its lovely, long lasting scent. It’s a popular choice for crafts since it retains its color and many people choose it for low hedges and borders.

2. Munstead Lavender

Munstead lavender is extremely popular mainly because it’s compact and can fit into small gardens. It also grows a lot slower than ‘Hidcote’ lavender. It’s very easy to care for and has gorgeous dark purplish-blue flower spikes.

3. Twickle Purple Lavender

This type of English lavender has a very long stem and is pale purple in color. It’s more showy and grows far taller than ‘Munstead’ lavender and looks very pretty when planted in gardens or containers. Its long stems are typically used dried or fresh for flower arrangements, but once it’s dried, the color tends to fade.

The Difference Between English & French Lavender

lavender growing

Both French and English lavender have a lot in common, but they also have slight differences. Let’s take a look at these in detail:

1. Cold Tolerance

Of the two, English lavender is a hardier plant that has a higher tolerance for cold than French lavender. In fact, it can withstand temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 C). French lavender, however, cannot thrive in temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 C).

You can be sure that your English lavenders will tolerate ice, snow and frost during the winter season and is cold hard up to the USDA zone 5. French lavender is a lot more delicate and suits USDA zones 7-9. However, it can tolerate winter only in climates that are very similar to their native climate in countries such as Italy, Spain and France.

2. Size

Knowing the size of a plant is necessary, especially if you’re growing it in containers so that you can choose the right sized pot and the right amount of soil for it.French lavender is a larger plant that can grow up to 60 to 90 cm, while  English lavender is much smaller in size.

3. Life Span

When grown under the same conditions, English lavender plants can live from 15 to 20 years, while the lifespan of French lavender is only about 5 years, even with the best care.

4. Fragrance

English lavender has a stronger fragrance and a longer lasting aroma that pervades the air, so if you’re looking for the famous lavender smell, this variety would be a good choice. French lavender has a beautiful fragrance as well, but it’s much more similar to that of rosemary.

5. Blooms

English lavender usually blooms in June and lasts for up to 4 weeks. However French lavender flowers in early spring and the flowers last all summer. In some cases, these plants continue to bloom even until early fall.

6. Soil pH

Each type of lavender grows in soil with different pH levels. In general, lavender can grow in mildly acidic soils with a pH level of 6.5. However, they prefer alkaline soils with a pH level of 8. As we’ve mentioned before, the English lavender species (unlike French lavender) is hardy and can still bloom and produce oil even in slightly acidic soil. Both types of lavender will have trouble growing in very acidic soil (with a pH lower than 6.5) and may die out early. In some cases, they may not grow at all.

The Take Away

When choosing between the two types of lavender, consider your circumstances and the pros and cons of each type. If you’re looking for a hardy plant that will last longer and has a more appealing fragrance, English lavender would be the ideal choice.

If you’re planting lavender for decorative purposes, opt for French lavender instead since the flowers bloom longer than the English variety and will look lovely in your garden for weeks to come.