Gardeners have prized lavender for thousands of years. Their usefulness and beauty made them vital in ancient Roman gardens, medieval monasteries, Elizabethan knots, english cottage gardens and shaker fields. I love the way they look, the way they smell when I brush up against them when I walk by. There are about 28 species of lavender. The most commonly grown are English, Spanish and French. I grow many English varieties because they do so well in our area. French lavender is tender so I grow it as an annual or in pots so I can bring them into the greenhouse during the cold winter months. Spanish varieties seems to struggle here, but I can’t seem to resist a few every year because the flower and growth habit is so different then the other cultivars.
lavender loves full sun and well-drained soil. They can survive in partial shade, but they seem to get spindly. The biggest killers of lavender plants are root-rotting diseases, which proliferate in high humidity and wet soil. English lavender are especially susceptible. If you live in a humid climate, don’t crowd lavender. If one plant catches a disease, it is likely to move down the row until they are all gone. You can increase drainage around lavender by planting in raised beds or in mounds. Well-composted organic matter will also help to improve soil texture. For real problem soils you can add cinders or chicken grit in the top 12 inches of soil. lavender likes a soil pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Lavender doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer, although I will feed a Well balanced fertilizer in the spring. I use 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Work into the soil surface several inches away from the main stem. I don’t like to mulch my lavender. It seems like if you try to amend the soil too much it will make the soil to rich and diseases are more abundant. Don’t kill your lavender with kindness! Rock gardens are a great place for lavender.
How much water will depend on your soil, the climate, and the age of your plants. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, only until the roots have established, which will take a year or more. Established plants can survive very dry conditions, but they will be more attractive and productive if the soil doesn’t dry out too much between watering. Make sure they get an inch of water every two to four weeks. Overhead watering is fine in an arid climate like mine, but if you live in a humid area, drip irrigation would be ideal for watering.
Lavender flowers are prized when they bloom. The fragrant flowers only bloom for four to six weeks each year. I start to harvest the flowers when they are in full color. You can gather several long spikes and cut all at once for a quick harvest or you can cut each individually down to the first set of leaves for longer stems. When cutting the flower spikes, I will prune any dead out of the bush and trim up just a little. The only other time I prune in is in the early spring, just before the new growth (not buds) begins. This is just to shape it up, and clean the dead branches. Never prune more than 1/3 of your lavender and never prune during a very cold spell.
All lavender can be propagated from stem cuttings. You want non-flowering stems, 2-3 inches long. Use a rooting hormone by dipping the freshly cut end into the hormone. If using a powder make sure to tap off any excess powder and if you are using a liquid hormone, my preferred method, only let the stems soak for 10 seconds. Place the cuttings into a sterile soil less mix. I use a heating mat on the bottom during cold months. Keep moist and out of direct sunlight till rooted.
lavender are used in so many different ways. Cut flowers, dried flower arrangements, cooking, potpourri, sachet and lavender wands. I bundle the flowers and hang them upside down for use in dried flower arrangements. One of my favorite ways to “show-off” my lavender is making wands. They are made by taking an odd number of fresh lavender (13 is a good number to start with for beginners) and tying off just below the blooms, bending the stems back over the flowers, and weaving ribbon around the stems. The flowers hold their scent for years like this. I like the english lavender best for these because they have the sweetest scent.
Cream Cheese with Herbs de Provence
1 lb cream cheese, 2-3 T half and half, 10 leaves of parsley minced, 4-5 marjoram sprigs minced, 4-5 sprigs summer savory minced, 4-5 fennel or dill sprigs minced, 2 t fresh lavender flowers, 2 garlic cloves crushed, 1/4 t sea salt, pinch of cayenne and 1 t herb or white vinegar. Cream the cheese and half and half, add the rest of the ingredients. Flavor improves after 2-3 days. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator. Use this spread on sandwiches, crackers or baked potatoes.