Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Lavender Dreams

By  0 Comments

Imagine yourself floating on a cloud. It’s a cloud composed of every hue of purple, with a scent unmatched by any other on Earth—the fragrance so strong and pungent you can almost taste it on your tongue. The touch of silver velvet on your fingertips is soothing, while the pervasive humming of bees surrounds you. All of your senses are engaged. You open your eyes and there you are, walking on a carpet of lavender, gently swaying in the warm summer breeze.

This dream does exist, at least in my mind, as I have decided to grow a patch of lavender on my little farm. As you may have read in my article last July, “My Bee Adventure,” I now have several hives that would benefit from such a lofty fantasy. However, I have not been very successful growing lavender, which most experts say is the easiest of all plants to grow. I have casually scattered a few plants in amongst my herb beds and wildflower patches, watering them along with everything else, and giving them the same care as the sage and the sunflowers. But alas, they don’t seem to survive more than a year or two at the most. What have I been doing wrong, and what makes me think that I can amend this shortcoming?

The first thing I had to decide was what kind of lavender I wanted to grow. Of course, I already knew that there are many varieties to choose from, but in my research, I found that they essentially narrow down to four main types: English, or Lavandula angustifolia; Spanish, or Lavandula stoechas; French, or Lavandula dentata; and Portuguese, or Lavandula latifolia. English lavender’s tight flower clusters bloom around the middle or later part of summer and it’s well known as the most fragrant. Spanish lavender blooms on bracts with what look like little “ears,” and while non-fragrant, the pretty flowers and bushy foliage make it suitable for flowerbeds. French lavender flowers sport a little “cap” on the top of a dark flower bract and are somewhat less fragrant than the English variety. Portuguese lavender also has “wings” atop the flower spikes with a distinctive scent that is supposed by some to be stronger and more pungent than the English lavender. All varieties, however, do have fragrant, aromatic gray to green foliage.

With the English varieties generally being the most fragrant, it is no wonder they are the plants cultivated on most lavender farms. That would definitely be a positive for me, because I’m all about the fragrance. But there are other things to consider as well, such as bloom times, length of bloom, varieties most attractive to bees, and ease of drying and processing. In other words, what do I actually plan to use it for besides wandering about aimlessly with my head in a lavender cloud? 

I know my bees would be fine and just as productive with the array of flowering plants I already have at any given season, but I love hearing and seeing them in a pollinating frenzy. Since bloom time and length appear to be spread out through the varieties of the different types, beginning in spring and lasting through late summer and sometimes into the fall, a combination would be ideal for my pollinator friends. And naturally, the super-sweet scent of an English type such as Grosso would be the main attraction. 

With an abundance of lavender in residence, I would certainly want to take advantage of the many renowned health and beauty benefits that come along with it. An herb native to the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, lavender comes from the Latin word “lavare,” which means “to wash.” The Persians, ancient Greeks and Romans used lavender for personal hygiene as well as aromatherapy. The oil of the plant seems to have sedating and calming effects and may be used to relax certain muscles. It also seems to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. Lavender oil has been found to help improve depression as well as alleviate certain symptoms of menstruation. Some research has shown that inhaling lavender essence reduces the level of pain during labor and after surgery. I’m not sure I would need to go into all that, but I can see myself dabbling in essential oils and preserving sachets just for the novelty of it. 

And let me count the ways lavender can be used in the kitchen. According to Bon Appétit, lavender can be used in anything from cake to chicken if used properly. To make sure your cookies don’t taste like soap, find a culinary lavender such as Jean Davis. Who knew? And infusions are best, they say. Either grind it with sugar for baked goods or strain it out as a liquid or syrup before using. Well, la de da, I thought my shortbread was pretty tasty, even with a crunchy smattering of green leaves and purple blossoms from whatever variety I had languishing in my garden for a whole season. Which brings me back to those poor pitiful specimens. 

From my research I did learn the English varieties are more susceptible to heat and dry weather. Since I have always sought out the English types such as Munstead and Hidcote, I now suspect that might be my problem. It does get pretty hot and dry out here in the Valley, so maybe I’d do better with a French or Spanish type. Well, the only way to find out is to plant as many varieties as I have room for and to see just which ones prove the best. How enchanting it will be to walk through a real field of lavender dreams.

For daily garden goodness, join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter.