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Lavender is an herb most personal.  One person's favorite may be way down on someone else's list. Recently, we planted a new trial bed with about 15 kinds of this sweet smelling sustenance. Now in its third spring, this sample garden has served to remind us of each plant's individual characteristics; subtleties that we tend to forget when we grow them in long massive rows. Our new trial garden was laid out with three of each kind of Lavender planted in a triangle, with each plant situated about two feet apart. Planted this way, it is easy to tell which ones grow fast and  should have been planted a lot further apart; and which ones grow slower and, for quicker turn around, should have been planted closer. We can see which ones are suited for which landscape need, which ones flower longer (or sooner or later), and which ones smell heavenly (or like a hospital). All in all a very practical way to learn about lavender.

Spring to Fall: Lavenders have it all

Yes, there is a Lavender blooming almost all the time in our gardens. This is easier to achieve in a Zone 8 garden like ours, but even those in Zone 5 can enjoy the fragrance of Lavender throughout much of the growing season.

THE NON-ENGLISH LAVENDERS

Lavenders Yellow, Spanish and French

From left to right: Yellow Lavender, Spanish Lavender 
and French Lavender

When most of us think of lavender it is the English varieties (botanically known as Lavandula angustifolia) that infiltrate our senses. But, gardeners in Zones 8 to 10 get a bit of a Lavender bloom head start with these other species of Lavenders which include Spanish, Kew Red Spanish, Yellow, Sweet, French, Allardii, Goodwin Creek Gray, Pinnata, and Woolly Lavender. With the exception of Woolly, these Lavenders start blooming early to mid spring. Spanish and Yellow Lavenders finish up after four or five weeks, with the others blooming for a bit longer.  All of these do best with a good pruning about four or five weeks into the bloom cycle, which discourages these large Lavender bushes from becoming untidy and, for some,  encouraging a second sweep of blooms. The variation in fragrance, size, color, texture, and flower heads among the Lavenders in this group make it a truly exciting group of plants. 

Spanish Lavender, with its dark purple, pineapple-shaped flower heads and dark green leaves, looks great planted with Orchid Rockrose and Golden Garden Sage. It grows low and wide and may layer its stems, allowing one plant to cover a lot of ground. Spanish Lavender is sometimes referred to as French Lavender. Since it grows wild in France, this is understandable since it is collected there to some extent and processed for oil used in perfume.

Kew Red Spanish Lavender is a smaller version of Spanish Lavender with medium pink flowers and dark pink flower bracts. It looks great planted with other pinks that bloom around Easter like Orchid Rockrose.

Yellow Lavender also has a pineapple-shaped flower head but the colorful top bracts are a lemon chiffon color. The yellow-green leaves are pungently scented and their color makes them a good foil for gray Lavenders. Since this Lavender grows tall and wide, it can be planted at the back of a row of Lavandula angustifolias or L. x intermedias.

Sweet Lavender is Lavender in the extreme. The greenest leaves, the greatest size, the fastest growth, and the longest flower wands are all great reasons for having this Lavender in the garden. Plant a large triangle of Sweet Lavender in the middle of a garden and surround it with Chocolate Scented Daisies for a visual and fragrant impact.

French Lavender has the more traditional gray leaves but with serrated edges. A large, fast growing shrub that is sometimes referred to as everblooming Lavender, French Lavender does best when kept at no more than three feet, including blooms. The large, blocky flower heads can be dried if picked before any of the little flowers turn brown.

Allardi Lavender is a form of French Lavender that is thought to be crossed with Lavandula latifolia, Spike Lavender, with a bit less rangy growth habit than French. It is not a heavy bloomer (not a lot of dead flowers to look at) which combined with its wonderful fragrance make it a good choice for a 2 to 3 foot hedge.

Goodwin Creek Gray Lavender is a hybrid of French Lavender with a shorter growth habit and a darker purple flower head that is held on a longer wand. It makes a nice border or edging plant.

Woolly Lavender likes it dry. The gray foliage and dark purple flowers are spectacular and come on in the heat of summer when all the other Lavenders are waning. Plant this near the path to the house to refresh you during the hottest time of year.

Pinnata Lavender is a zone 10 lavender that grows fast and can be grown as an annual. It has really long flower wands, fern like leaves and oddly twisted spiral shaped flowers.

THE ENGLISH LAVENDERS

Lavenders Vera, Munstead, Hidcote, and Jean Davis

From left to right: Vera, Munstead, Hidcote, Jean Davis

Our English Lavenders (Lavandula angustifolias), include English, Munstead, Hidcote, Hidcote Pink, Jean Davis, Sarah, Miss Katherine, Sachet, Royal Purple and Vera and flower in mid to late spring. These second-round bloomers are finished by late spring or early summer. These look great when they flower, and, after pruning, remain a compact ball or hedge with exotically fragrant leaves the rest of the year. Cooler summer climates may have extended bloom periods, but where summers are hot, these stop blooming as the heat increases. These Lavenders are hardy to Zone 5 but, like all Lavenders, will not tolerate poor drainage or high humidity.

Our English Lavender is large leaved and tall. It has been in our nursery for more than 15 years. It grows robustly and has great color and fragrance. Even though it is unusual for an English Lavender to be this large, this plant has pollen, and blooms at the same time as the other Lavandula angustifolias. 

Munstead Lavender is named for Munstead Woods, the home of famous garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Tolerating summer heat the best of all of the above English Lavenders, Munstead Lavender looks great planted with Yellow or White Roses.

Hidcote Lavender is famous for its dark purple flower. Smaller than Munstead, it likes a cooler climate than our semi-arid summer can provide and we consistently have problems with it dying during hot months. Like most of these 'English' Lavenders, Hidcote is not as drought or heat tolerant as the Lavandins.

Hidcote Pink Lavender has a pastel pink flower spike that looks best planted in mass and viewed at a bit of a distance rather than up close. 

Jean Davis Lavender also has a pastel pink flower. Looking at Hidcote Pink and Jean Davis together, it is hard to tell them apart. The difference, oddly enough, is in the taste. A fruity-flavored flower sets Jean Davis apart from other Lavenders. Munstead is a close second. Unfortunately, Jean Davis is harder to grow than Munstead, which is why Munstead was chosen instead as an addition to our Edible Flower Herb Garden Six Pack.

Miss Katherine Lavender is a lovely pink English Lavender that is easier to grow and less likely to die from the heat. Still a small plant, it has a wonderful fragrance and looks nice mixed with the purple English Lavenders.

Sachet Lavender has become one of our favorite English Lavenders. A little bigger and definitely more robust than some of its cousins. It has a medium purple flower and flowers longer for us here in our heat. Called Sachet for its heady, sweetly scented flowers.

Sarah Lavender is one of many lesser-known L. angustifolias. A very small plant with short flower spikes and small, yet showy dark purple flowers; it is very suited to window boxes and container growing. 

Royal Purple Lavender is a darker purple flowered lavender that is very fragrant and makes a nice smaller hedge. This variety was bred in the 1940's for drying.

Vera Lavender or Lavender Vera is thought to be the true English Lavender. Also called True Lavender or Fine Lavender, the best quality oil comes from plants grown at altitudes between 2500 and 4500 feet on the sides of mountains in central Europe. It is thought to be the best Lavender for medicinal and aromatherapy purposes.

THE LAVANDINS

From left to right: Grappenhall, Provence, Grosso, 
Dutch Mill, Abrialii and Seal

The English Lavender Hybrids, sometimes referred to as Lavandins; come in third in the bloom cycle, starting just as the the English Lavenders are finishing, and continuing to mid summer. 

These are the workhorses of Lavender. They do it all: bloom lots, grow just the right size, and smell like a million bucks. Provence and Grosso are the best known of these, but there are many others, including Abriali, Fred Boutin, Dutch Mill, Grappenhall, Seal, Hidcote Giant, Edelweiss and White Grosso. These are the ones to line the drive or border the garden with.  

The botanical name for the Lavandins is Lavandula x intermedia. The x means it is a cross with two plants. In this case, it is L. angustifolia and L. latifolia. The intermedia means that these crossed plants have qualities of both parents, or it is intermediate between them.

Lavandins have long gray leaves, twice or more the size of L. angustifolias. They also grow much larger and faster and are more adept at dealing with heat.

Abriali Lavender is one of the older Lavandins. Also beautifully colored, it is a little shorter than Grosso and was used for oil production before Grosso was developed.

Dutch Mill Lavender has vibrant grape colored flowers that stand out well against darker flowered lavenders like Grosso. Because it is a lighter shade, it shows up better in very sunny situations.

Fred Boutin Lavender, discovered in 1980, is a long-stemmed beauty with a medium purple flower. It has very silvery leaves and excellent fragrance.

Grosso Lavender is cultivated for oil used mainly in the cosmetic industry. It makes great Lavender bouquets and wands. Grosso Lavender has beautiful purple calyxes instead of the normal green calyx of most lavenders.

White Grosso Lavender is a must have for the garden and for the vase. Its swan white blooms complement the purples of other lavenders and they stay white when dried. 

Edelweiss Lavender also has a very fragrant,  swan white flower but grows a bit shorter and a bit tighter than White Grosso Lavender.

Grappenhall Lavender is a tall, long-leaved Lavender with a slender bloom and a medium purple flower. Because the leaves are longer this plant has the energy to grow quickly and in larger proportions.

Hidcote Giant Lavender has dark purple flowers that are close together. It is a striking plant in the landscape.

Provence Lavender has a long, slender flower wand that is useful for dried bud collecting. The buds come cleanly and easily away from the stalk. 

Seal Lavender is a highly fragrant bright purple old time favorite that is perfect for crafts or hedges.

Any way you look at them, lavenders are luscious long stemmed, aromatic necessities.

PLANTING, GROWING, PRUNING, HARVESTING AND USING

Most lavenders are started from cuttings taken from Mother plants. This is both fast and accurate, producing an exact replica of the original plant.

Starting Lavender from seeds sounds like a great inexpensive way to get all the lavender you desire but it can have some major drawbacks.

The first obstacle is finding the seeds. Even though Spanish, Yellow, and other species Lavenders can be started from seeds, it is usually only the Lavandula angustifolias--Hidcote, Vera, and Munstead-- that are available as seeds. 

The second drawback is what we call 'low and slow' germination. Lavender seeds have a short shelf life, and therefore the germination rate (how many seeds out of 100 come up) is usually pretty low. They can also take a long time to sprout (two weeks or more) and this invites fungus to the seed tray, often causing the seed to rot before it can sprout. Seeds benefit from light, so cover lightly when sowing. The germination temperature should be around 70 degrees and spring seeding is more successful than fall seeding.  Those seeds that do sprout will take one to three months before they have enough roots and top growth to allow successful transplanting. Adding fertilizer to the sterile medium used in the seed tray can help the little plants get off to a better start, but it can also invite fungus in cool, humid situations. 

The third disadvantage is the time it takes for the seedlings to get to a good size. After they are transplanted into small pots, the plants will be about three inches tall and have a single stem. It will take another three months or more to make a plant substantial enough to transplant to a larger pot or to the garden. 

The fourth inconvenience is the difference factor. Because little care has been taken over the years to insure that the seeds have not crossed with each other, the plants will be varying shades of color. They might also vary some in height and width. This was the surprise our customer had. The perfect hedge of Hidcote Lavender she had dreamed about and worked so hard to grow the plants for turned out to be more like a cottage garden: still beautiful, but irregular in form and color.

And, lastly, the most popular Lavenders (the Lavandula x intermedias; sometimes called Lavandins), either do not make seeds or the seeds are sterile, so you will never see a seed packet of these.

The most important factor to get right with Lavender is drainage. Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Incorporate organic matter if necessary to make a loose friable soil. Compost is the best amendment because it is fertile and has uneven particle sizes. Uneven particles in the soil create better air spaces and give the roots better anchors to attach themselves to. Check the soil's pH (potential hydrogen) to make sure it falls somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the Lavender will not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are 'tied' up in the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help to balance the pH

If you are going to plant a hedge or a massive amount of Lavender, make sure the ground is cleared of weeds. Solarization works to remove not only tenacious weeds, but also kills weed seeds. Small Lavender plants cannot compete with aggressive weeds, and weeding after they are planted can be a huge hassle.  Weeding often becomes such a chore that Lavenders are overrun and eventually die in a neglected field. 

Mulching with a small particle mulch or compost after planting  helps with the weed control, but avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a collar about two inches wide around the plant.

If you are in hot, humid areas, try planting Lavenders in a raised bed or on a mound. Leave plenty of room between plants for air circulation. Lavenders are not ideally suited to heat and humidity, so be prepared for problems, such as fungal disease and rot.

For ultimate show, space plants according to their height measurement. For example, a Grappenhall Lavender is listed at 3 to 4 feet. By spacing these 3 or 4 feet apart, the effect when the plant is blooming is spectacular. If it is more important that the plant make a tight row or hedge, then plant closer together.

If planting in pots, make sure to repot every spring into a larger container with fresh soil to allow the plant to continue to mature and to provide as many flowers as possible. A good, coarse, sterile potting soil with organic fertilizer mixed in works best. 

In the ground or in a pot, full sun is a must. If the garden is crowded, plant near a south-facing wall. Even the Lavender at the north end of the row will be shorter and bloom later. In hot areas, some late afternoon shade can be tolerated without sacrificing the glorious mounded shape and rising pincushion effect of the flower wands.

Lavender in the field rarely needs fertilizer, especially if compost is applied as a mulch. More often, problems arise because the soil is not healthy. Avoid chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that kill or starve the beneficial organisms in the soil. 

In arid regions with no summer water, irrigation will be necessary for the survival of the plants. While Lavender is extremely drought resistant once established, it grows larger and produces more blooms with regular watering. This means that when it is dry, water it. While this may sound obvious, it is important to let it dry out a bit before soaking it again. In humid areas, this can be difficult and the excess moisture often causes death. 

The Gardener's Minute


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Zones 8 and up can plant Lavender in spring and fall, but other zones are better off with a spring planting after the last frost.  If fall planting is to be tried, plant at least two months before the first frost. It is important that the plant actually make good root development into the native soil before severe winter weather occurs. Lavender grows slowly in the fall and often plants are not sufficiently established to get through winter rains and cold.

It takes about three years for a Lavender to reach full size. Plants should be pruned every year immediately after bloom. Pruning should not be confused with harvesting. Pruning is necessary to extend the life of the plant. Lavender flower wand stems are usually a bright green while Lavender leaves are gray. Cut back not only the flower stem, but also about a third of the gray-leaved stems as well. If the plant has been neglected, it can be cut back further, but avoid pruning back so far that only woody stems with no leaves are showing. A plant pruned into the wood may push out latent (sleeping) buds or it may die.

Harvesting Lavender is one of the most enjoyable pleasures any gardener can have.  Lavender flower heads look gray before the flowers open. They are devoid of most color and it is easy to become impatient waiting for them to burst into bloom. Once the  color is bright and vivid, that is the time to start cutting. Cut the flower stems during the cool of the morning after the dew has dried. In humid areas, try to cut on dry days. For arrangements, it is easiest to arrange the Lavender while it is fresh and supple. This can be done in the garden if it is not too hot. If the weather is very warm (even in the morning), take a bucket of water, filled about a quarter of the way, and submerge the cut end of the stems into the bucket. Remember that the plant cools itself by releasing its fragrant oils, so the more heat they are exposed to the less oil, and fragrance, for you. Arrange out of direct sun as soon as possible. Stand them in a dry vase and the fresh flowers become dry ones. Or use fresh in small groups as an accent for a fresh herbal wreath. If the flowers are to be used later, dry in small groups by tying with a twist tie and hanging in a dark dry place or individually by spreading them on a screen and drying out of the sun. Once dry, the buds can also be stripped and used as bulk for potpourri, sachet, or even cooking. Some Lavenders hold their buds better than others. Grosso Lavender is preferred for wand making and dried arrangements because the flowers stay on the stem better. This is something to consider if your primary focus is to REMOVE the dried buds for bulk use, such as potpourri. Provence Lavender is more suited to this because the buds release easily from the calyx (too easily for dried bouquets or wands).

The further along in the bloom cycle, the more fragile the flowers seem to be. Actually, what happens is that the little flowers fall out and what is left is the calyx and any unopened buds. Most Lavenders bloom for about 5 weeks, so do a little experiment in your garden to see when the harvest is best for your needs.

If you are harvesting a lot of Lavender, try this tip from the Lavender experts at Purple Mountain Majesty.

Hand harvest by sticking your left thumb in the flowers to be cut while simultaneously hooking the flower stalks in front and below your left hand with a Chinese sickle.  You pull and cut the first bunch into your left hand with one motion.  The process is repeated without removing the cut material until you have completely cut counterclockwise around the plant essentially twisting the cut stalks around the center uncut stalks as you go.  This keeps even the largest bundles under control because the whole bundle winds around the center uncut stalks creating enough friction to keep everything together and eventually captured under your left arm.  If the bundle is too big for your grip, then it is kept from falling apart by your thumb and the center stalks, which you cut in a final cutting motion starting with a reversed sickle in front of your left leg and vectoring in a direction that is away from the harvester.

Lavender smells like it should taste wonderful, but the taste of most Lavenders is a little like turpentine. The flavor is not one that can be easily defined nor is it one most people like right away. It is like a fine wine with many subtleties. Both fresh and dried flowers and leaves are used in culinary preparations. Recipes using Lavender are generally on the sweet side but Lavender can be used to replace Rosemary and other strong tasting herbs. Or, it can be blended with other herbs, as in herbs de Provence. This mix, used in many savory dishes, often finds dried Lavender leaves and flowers mixed with other members of the mint family, like Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, Thyme and Mint. 

Used not only to make life smell richer and more tolerable, but also as a medicinal relief for ailments from headaches to insomnia, Lavender oil has always been a prize. In times past, most Lavender oil was distilled from the angustifolia species of Lavandula. 

Often referred to as English Lavenders, these Lavenders are native to the western half of the Mediterranean.  Now cultivated in many countries, it was thought the finest Lavender grew in England and thus the common name English Lavender evolved and is still the name most folks use when referring to Lavender products. 

Because Lavandula angustifolias are small, and because they are pretty particular about where they grow, it takes a lot of plants to produce one ton of oil; so most Lavender oil now comes from the Lavandins. These are hybrid Lavenders that have the English Lavender as one parent and the Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia) as another. These Lavenders tolerate a more diverse climate, and, since they are larger, produce more oil per acre. This oil, while less expensive, is not as good for medicinal purposes as English Lavender oil, but it is widely used in the perfume and craft industries.

And, when you hear the term French Lavender Oil, don't be confused. The French nom de plume refers to where it is grown and not which plant it is from. French Lavender oil is really English Lavender oil produced in France!

Books on Lavender:
Lavender: the Growers Guide 

The Lavender Garden
The Genus Lavandula

Chat Group:
Lavender

Recipe:
Fabulous Lavender Sorbet

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