July 31, 2016
Lovely Lavender: Varieties, Care, and Use
Published by Bucks Country Gardens in Plants
The name lavender (lavandula) comes from Latin to wash, as the fresh scent was the favorite additive to bath water for many Greeks and Romans. It is an aromatic subshrub, a member of the mint herb family, with intensely perfumed flowers. We plant it to enhance the beauty of our gardens as a border or incorporate it into our ornamental plants. It is grown to attract bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects. It has medicinal and culinary uses. The fragrance is used in perfumes, sachets, potpourris, and fresh and dried flower arrangements.
There are over thirty varieties of lavender with three main types: English, French, and Spanish. The most popular species of lavender is angustifolia, commonly called English Lavender or True Lavender. It is a hardy perennial (Zone 5-11) and can grow 2-3 feet. Dwarf varieties are available for small spaces (1-2 feet) such as Hidcote (often used in hedges) and Martha Raderick, a nursery favorite. English lavender has narrow green, gray, or gray-green leaves and its flower petals unfurl along much of the length of the long stock. Most have light purple flowers, but Jean Davis has light pink and Nana Alba is a dwarf with white flowers. English lavender has a strong, sweet scent that makes it the best for cooking. French Lavender, lavandula dentate, has loose distinct heads of light purple flowers with grayish serrated leaves. It is considered hardy in our zone, has a slightly longer bloom season, and commonly used for decorative purposes. Spanish Lavender, stoecas, is a true Mediterranean plant (Zone 8-11). It has distinctive deep purple flowers with a pineapple shape. This lavender also grows well in parts of France and is sometimes labeled as French lavender.
Lavender should be planted in full sun in a loose, fast draining soil with good air circulation. If your soil is heavy, lighten it up with lots of perlite, soil free mix, or sand before planting or consider a raised bed as perfect drainage is a must, especially through the winter. Lavender can also be grown in a container, where you can more easily control the water and light. I have overwintered my lavender container by protecting the container (cardboard, bubble wrap, burlap) and placing it against my house out of the strong winds. Water your lavender until the plant is well established (about 1 year). Thereafter, irrigate once a month, as lavender is very drought resistant. Fertilizer is unnecessary; lavender prefers a lean soil. Though, an occasional side dressing of compost would do nicely. In high humidity areas, hybrids (intermedia), such as Phenomenal, are recommended. Prune your established plant in spring after new growth appears. Refrain from low cuts into old wood. If your older plants are losing their flare, cut back by 1/3 every 3 years.
Hidcote, Giant, Provence, and Super are used most frequently for fragrances. For drying I would suggest Hidcote, Munstead, and Grosso and for sachets, any English variety and Provence. Cut your flower stems right as the flowers are beginning to open for the strongest scent. Lavender is also used in medicinal applications for depression, anxiety, indigestion, migraines, sunburn and insomnia. It can be added to baths and dried as potpourri.
The sweetest scented lavenders are the best for cooking. Choose from the English or hybrid groups. Munstead is a dwarf English variety that can tolerate heat better than some other varieties and is great for cooking, as is Lady and Hidcote. Provence, a hybrid, is also a great choice, used in the blend Herbs de Provence. It has a somewhat stronger flavor and can be used as a substitute for rosemary (2 times lavender to 1 rosemary) in savory dishes. I use it as one of my favorite seasonings for roasted potatoes; equal parts rosemary, lavender, and sea salt.
A friend of mine just gave me this Lavender scrub recipe, which I am going to try this summer. Perhaps you will like to give it a try, too.
Giada Citrus Lavender Scrub
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp. dried lavender
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 small lemon
- Heat olive oil and lavender in a small saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes to warm the oil.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the infused oil to cool to room temperature.
- In a small bowl, combine the salt, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Pour in the infused oil and stir to incorporate.
- Transfer the scrub to an airtight glass container.
- The scrub will keep for 2 weeks at room temperature.
In my garden, Lavender is a must. If you are planting it in your garden for the first time, be careful of wet soil. My own garden is just too wet, especially in the winter. So, now I go with container gardening because I have to have my lavender.
Happy and fragrant gardening.
Marilyn Fanning | Greenhouse Design, & Sales