Lavender is a perennial Mediterranean evergreen shrub. Its aromatic flower spikes are a delight to the senses — to see, smell, taste and to hear the buzz of bees during its flowering cycle.
It is important to know the differences between lavender types and choose the best one for your conditions and needs. Not every lavender plant is the same and when it comes to English (Lavendula angustifolia) vs. French (Lavendula dentate) there are some very important differences.
For our area, English is the best choice. English will tolerate cold winters and survive as a perennial, growing small and compact up to 2 feet tall and wide.
Mine starts blooming in late spring and lasts well into the fall. It produces a strong characteristic scent.
The most fragrant species also are the most edible, making English lavender extremely popular as a culinary lavender. Add its blooms to desserts like cookies and fudge or blend them with herbs for savory dishes.
Lavandin is a hybrid cultivar that was developed to produce even more oil than English lavender, so it has an even more potent aroma.
Lavender plants can be started from seed, purchased from a local garden store or propagated from existing plants.
Propagating lavender from cuttings is one of those really easy and rewarding garden pleasures. Not only do you get more plants but it is fun to grow more for free and to share.
It’s best done in the summer. Choose a side shoot, cutting just below a bump that indicates a leaf node, pulling these away from the main stem with a thin strip of bark still attached, then gently scrape the skin off the bottom portion of the stem on one side with a knife. This heel is important as it is where the roots of the new plant will develop.
Remove the lower leaves so the cutting has a length of bare stem that can be cleanly inserted into the soil. Dip the cut end of each cutting into rooting hormone before placing in your prepared rooting medium for the best results. Water the cuttings, then cover or place the pots in a clear bag to maintain a humid atmosphere around the cuttings. Place the pots in a warm shaded area until rooting has started (about four to six weeks).
Cut a hole in plastic to increase ventilation. Remove the bag completely after a few weeks when new growth is apparent. They should soon be ready to plant and share.
Lavender grows best in full sun, requiring well drained, low to moderately fertile soils. Depending on the variety, space your plants 1-3 feet apart. Once established, the perennial will return year after year.
The best time to harvest lavender is when the buds have formed on the plant but the flowers have not yet opened. Cut mature lavender flowers just above the leaves. Gather the lavender into a bunch, tie the stems with string or a rubber band, and hang them upside down in an airy, dark place to dry for two to four weeks.
You can prune English lavender by cutting it back by two thirds in the second half of August and you can cut into the bare wood, if needed. New shoots will quickly appear at the base of the bush and these will have enough time to grow and harden up before winter comes.
Lavender has many uses besides beautifying gardens and feeding pollinators. It has long been considered a natural antiseptic and a great stress reliever. Lavender blossoms have a strong herbal aroma and flavor, which pairs wonderfully with both sweet and savory dishes. Its clean, floral flavor pairs particularly well with vanilla and chocolate. In baking, remember a small amount goes a long way and can be overpowering if not used sparingly.
Lavender vinegar can be used on salads as a refreshing change from balsamic. Place ¼ cup of lavender buds in a clean jar. Pour one cup of white vinegar over the top. Cover the jar with a plastic lid or place a layer of plastic wrap between the metal lid and vinegar, to prevent the lid from rusting and tainting the vinegar. Let sit for two to three weeks to infuse.
Lavender simple syrup can be added to ice cream and sorbets. Bring one cup of water and one cup of white sugar with one tablespoon of fresh lavender blossoms to a boil. Cool and store in refrigerator for use.
For lavender lemonade, add one cup of flowers to one cup of boiling water and one cup of white sugar. Let cool and add three cups of water, one cup of lemon juice. Pour over ice and serve.
It also can be used as a savory rub or an addition to soups or vegetables. A French Herbs de Provence seasoning can be made by adding equal amounts of dried blossoms to a dried Italian herbs seasoning, which can include equal amounts of the following, depending on your gardens yield or availability. Rosemary, basil, fennel, marjoram, parsley, tarragon, savory, thyme, sage and/or oregano any can be included or omitted to suit individual tastes.
A tablespoon or two of dried blossoms added to recipes for scones, shortbreads or a snappy snickerdoodle makes for a pleasant snack with a cup of tea. Lavender can also be added to teas, especially Earl Grey.