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For color and texture contrast in the herb garden, nothing beats lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyperissus). This perennial sub-shrub grows about two feet high and nearly as wide. It prefers a location with full sun and well-drained, almost dry soil. In mid-summer it produces yellow button shaped flowers.
This herb has a two-part common name. The finely toothed leaves are very similar to Spanish lavender (Lavendula dentata), which gives us the first part of its common name. Its gray-green foliage has a slightly fuzzy, cottony surface which gives us the second part of the name.
In the garden this light colored herb can be placed near darker leaved herbs such as rosemary to provide a color contrast. One source recommends planting it near roses. Traditionally, lavender cotton has been used as a border hedge and as one of the principle plants in creating a knot garden. It is also a good candidate for dry slopes where it has room to spread out and help hold the soil during heavy rains.
Most of the lavender cotton sold in the U.S. is a sterile hybrid. The best way to propagate it is by layering — burying lateral stems from the parent plant until they have developed roots, then removing and replanting them. Cuttings taken in late summer to early fall can also be rooted but this technique generally does not work as well as layering.
Mulch lavender cotton in late fall to encourage side stems to root. It is winter hardy to Zone 6 so Texas gardeners should have no trouble keeping it alive through the winter. Once warmer temperatures appear in early spring, prune this herb to about six inches tall to encourage the new year’s growth.
Lavender cotton has a strong, almost medicinal fragrance that is believed to repel insects. In French, this herb is called “garde-robe” which roughly translates as “clothing protector.” Dried branches of lavender cotton are sometimes hung in clothing closets. It would also be good as an air freshener in musty, enclosed spaces.