Lavender, an herb with many culinary uses, also makes a stunning addition to borders and perennial gardens, providing sweeping drifts of color from early summer into fall. With its silvery-green foliage, upright flower spikes and compact shrub-like form, lavender is ideal for creating informal hedges. You can also harvest it for fragrant floral arrangements, sachets, and potpourri.
Lavender is a perennial that will last for several years under the right conditions. Because of its Mediterranean origin, lavender loves blazing hot sun and dry soil. If your lavender doesn’t thrive, it’s most likely due to overwatering, too much shade, and high humidity levels.
DESIGN IDEAS FOR LAVENDER
- Use lavender along walkways and garden paths where you can enjoy their scent and where they can benefit from the heat reflected off the pavement.
- Plant in formal or informal herb gardens, where the cool, gray-green foliage sets off other green herbs and plants.
- Create aromatic hedges or borders along fences and garden walls.
- Use lavender as a natural pest repellent near patios and porches. The scent deters mosquitoes, flies, fleas, and other problem insects while attracting butterflies and bees.
- Plant with drought-tolerant companions such as coneflower, sedum, black-eyed Susan, roses, and shasta daisies.
IDEAS FOR USING LAVENDER IN THE KITCHEN
A member of the mint family, lavender has been used for centuries as a versatile, unexpected flavoring in both sweet and savory foods. English lavenders are the best varieties for culinary purposes, and both the buds and leaves can be used fresh or dried. Because the flavor of lavender is strong, use it sparingly so it won’t overpower your dishes. The buds are best harvested right before they fully open, when the essential oils are most potent.
- Immerse a few dried lavender buds in a jar of sugar to give it a sweet aroma. Use the sugar for baking and in desserts.
- Chop the fresh buds and add to a cake batter or sweet pastry dough before baking.
- Add flower buds to preserves or fruit compotes to give them subtle spicy notes.
- Sprinkle fresh lavender on a salad as a garnish.
- Use fresh lavender to infuse teas, cocktails, and other beverages.
- Use chopped buds and leaves to flavor roast lamb, chicken, or rabbit.
- Make Herbes de Provence by blending dried lavender with thyme, savory, and rosemary.
While lavender may be grown from seed, the simplest method of propagation is by rooting cuttings. Cut small branches with no flower buds from the stem. Strip the leaves from the bottom half of each cutting. Insert cuttings into moist potting soil or vermiculite. Keep them moist by misting until they produce roots, generally within three weeks. Transplant the cuttings into 2-inch flowerpots and place them in front of a brightly lit window covered by sheer curtains, or in a sheltered place in the garden.
Alternately, pile bark mulch or compost into a mound next to the plant. Trim most of the foliage from a branch, but leave several inches of leaves at the tip. Bend the branch down so the bare stem touches the mulch. Add a U-shaped wire to hold the branch in place so it is touching the bark. Cover the branch with compost and keep it moist. The stem will develop roots. Once the roots appear, cut the branch from the parent plant with sterile pruners and transplant it into a flowerpot or the garden.
Thumbelina Leigh English Lavender
An extremely aromatic and profuse bloomer, this compact selection produces lovely spikes of violet-blue blooms up to three times per year! Prune back by one-half after flowering for best repeat show. This versatile, undemanding little evergreen shrub is ideal for containers, low borders, and rock gardens.
Despite its Mediterranean origin, English lavender was so named because it grows well in that country’s cooler climate and has long been a staple in English herb gardens. The gray-green foliage and whorls of tiny flowers make this one of the most attractive lavenders in the garden. It’s one of the most cold-hardy varieties and the best for culinary use because of its low camphor content.
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is actually from northeastern Spain. It is also known as true or common lavender. It thrives in zones 5 through 8 or 9, making it one of the hardiest lavender species. Most varieties – such as ‘Hidcote,’ dwarf ‘Little Lottie’ and ‘Rosea’ – bloom between early May and mid-June. A few varieties, including ‘Folgate’ and ‘Lavenite Petite,’ bloom in early to mid-May, while ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ bloom in June. Late-blooming English lavender varieties include the dwarf ‘Nana Alba,’ which produces flowers in midsummer. The plants generally flower for three to four weeks. If you harvest the flower spikes quickly, most varieties, including ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Nana Alba,’ will bloom a second time.
Also called fringed lavender, this showy variety is distinguished by narrow, finely-toothed leaves and compact flower heads topped by purple bracts. While the flowers have less aroma than English lavender, the fleshly leaves are more fragrant, with an intoxicating rosemary-like scent.
French lavender (Lavandula dentata) also blooms in early spring and continues blooming through the summer. Remove the flower spikes to encourage continued blossom production. Generally, the foliage is gray-green with square-toothed edges. Similar to Spanish lavender, it produces purple brachs on short spikes. It thrives in USDA zones 5 through 9. French lavender is native to Spain, Greece and North Africa, though it is also widely grown in the Provence region of France.
This variety is prized for its unusual pineapple-shaped blooms with colorful bracts, or “bunny ears,” that emerge from each flower spike. Although the flowers are not especially fragrant, the light-green leaves are very aromatic.
Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), sometimes known as French lavender, is the least hardy and most heat-tolerant of the lavender species. It thrives in USDA zones 8 through 9. In areas with mild summers and winters, it may bloom up to three times – in early May, June and late summer or early fall. Blossom colors range from the white ‘Ballerina’ to violet-blue ‘Regal Splendour’ to dark purple ‘Fathead.’