Santolina chamaecyparissus

This attractive little evergreen sub-shrub from the Mediterranean, also called lavender cotton, has been grown in Britain since the sixteenth century, both as a medicinal herb, as a drying plant, and as a clipping plant to edge parterres and knot gardens. It rivals lavender as a neat plant for a low garden hedge.

The small bushes, 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) high, are so covered with a woolly protective felting that they are almost white. The whole plant is crowded with small, narrow, feathery leaves which are aromatic, the smell being rather pungent, and in late summer long-stalked heads of small yellow flowers appear, like tiny balls of wool. The colour is coarse, and, as with other silver-leaved composite plants, like Sene-cio, the plant is prettier without them.

Today, lavender cotton is usually grown in the herb garden, where it looks appropriately trim and tidy. Sometimes it is used as an edging to formal rosebeds, but the yellow flowers are a distraction and some gardeners cut them off. It is also a good plant to put in groups at the front of a mixed border, providing attractive foliage to hide the stalks of very tall summer plants like achilleas.

Treat this santolina like lavender, putting in the plants 18 inches (45 cm) apart in sun in light, well-drained soil, and clipping them hard in spring. Take cuttings in late summer in case the plants succumb to a severe winter.

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