A favorite perennial plant, Lavandula angustifolia

I have written often enough about my lavender hedge, and about the sublime sweetness of lavender paired with purple petunias, elsewhere. Now it is time to give lavender its due with a profile of this ancient and fragrant plant.

lavender path

source: kate hiscock on Flckr

There are many ways this versatile and demure perennial can grace a garden. As an old favorite of herbal gardens, and a venerable cottage garden plant, this plant has a long history and renown. A fragrant and useful plant, it is also very beautiful and long blooming which makes it a welcome addition in ornamental gardens of all sorts.

Numerous varieties are grown: English, ‘Munstead’, ‘Hidcote’, ‘Hidcote Pink’, ‘Jean Davis’, ‘Sarah’, and Vera. A few of those are synonymous.

These more compact varieties are good for containers.
  • ‘Hidcote’ has a deeper shade of blue-purple flower. It yields a high quality fragrance,and dwarf (8 to 12 inches high) ‘Hidcote’ must be propogated by cuttings or division to merit the name.
  • ‘Munstead’ is also a compact, dwarf variety. Adapts better to heat and humidity (my growing conditions in central Ohio), and may bloom continuously if regularly deadheaded or harvested. It’s drawback is its reduced hardiness. I regularly lose it, but it is a very beautiful cultivar.

Plant Description

Its fresh flower color -to which the plant lends its name, and the gray-green foliage create a soft blended look.

The flower heads are a spike form, but the plant grows thickly, so it is like a mound punctuated with light purple spikes directing the eye outward. They tend to bloom in early summer, although you might have a late flush.

It grows in a bush form, and looks best in its first couple of years, after that it can get woody and grow in an odd shape due to winter losses.

There are other flower colors besides the purple shades, such as white and pink, but I think they tend to look insipid; while the deeper the purple color, the more attractive the plant seems.

How To Grow Lavender

  • Bright sun (6-8 hours)
  • Well drained soil
  • Neutral to alkaline soil
  • Average to less moisture
  • little or no fertilizer needed
  • drought tolerant, once established
  • needs annual pruning, but do not cut into old wood

Lavandula Needs Good Drainage

…And likes a little lime

Sunshine, good drainage in a loose friable soil, with a near neutral to alkaline pH is best.

Plant it in the spring for best results.

These plants are drought tolerant once established, but appreciate normal watering.
However, wet roots in wintertime will lead to it’s demise.

Try mulching with limestone gravel and poultry grit (available from feed stores) to help drainage. Never overdo lime, but if your soil tends to be acidic, go ahead and add a pinch. To be sure use a soil test kit or take a sample of soil to your extension agent, the analysis will guide additions of amendments and is worth the trouble to know.

Propagating

Most lavenders are started from cuttings, they are more difficult to grow from seed.

Growing Herbs by Seed and Cuttings

If you do wish to propagate by seed: the seeds need light, so cover lightly when sowing. They germinate in temperatures around 70 degrees.

Layering is another way to multiply the plants.

Pruning Lavender

Start pruning the plants from the first year. Cut back by a third. The goal is to have a sturdy mounded plant that is thrifty in growth. Use the harvested flowering stems for crafts. Or start new plants from the cuttings, if it is the right time of year.

How To Prune Lavender

 

It is important to lightly prune lavender, but don’t cut into old wood

Prune after flowering by cutting back the flower stem or about a third of the gray-leaved stems. This will extend the life of the plant. However if you cut too far back into the woody part of the stems you risk that the stems may not rejuvenate with new growth. .

To Harvest Flowers and Stems

For best fragrance and color, cut early in the day. Cut in bunches or individual stems to bunch together: tie with rubber band, and hang upside down in a cool places away from light.

How Hardy Is Lavender?

Lavenders have varying hardiness, so be sure to check the hardiness zones for the types best for your climate. Types such as ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ are more hardy.

I live in USA Zone 5, and I regularly must replace my lavender plants when we have a particularly cold winter. Of course, it doesn’t help that it is a damp winter with little snow cover, as a rule.

Lavender Hedge

The Lavender Hedge, grown along the stone walk.

Sometimes the plants have winterkilled to the ground, but if we were lucky enough to have snow when the thermometer dropped below zero, the roots survived. This is why it is good to know if your yard has microclimates that are more protected, and that you take the time to improve drainage in the planned planting spot.

Fun Facts

In the Language of Flowers, lavender means devotion and faithfulness, but sometimes “distrust”.

In ancient times it was commonly called nard, according to one source (although I have my doubts about that). Ancient Grecians used lavender as perfume and antiseptic, Romans used lavender for its medicinal qualities, and for washing.

In the 16th Century Queen Elizabeth I of England drank lavender tea for her migraines.

Shakers, religious sect famous for their seed and furnaiture making businesses were the first to commercially grow lavender in North America.

Lavender is also a culinary herb, try it as a flavoring for beverages, main dishes, and cookies.

The flowers are edible.

Smelling the fragrance of Lavender is said to soothe the nerves. It is widely
used in aromatherapy and cosmetics. Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Grosso lavender (Lavandin or Lavender x intermedia) is preferred for crafts.

All About Fragrant Lavender

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