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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
Lavender Sweet Lavender
"Lavender, sweet blooming lavender,
Six bunches a penny today.
Lavender, sweet blooming lavender
Ladies buy it while you may."
- old London street cry
Growing English lavenders takes a minimum of effort here in the Northwest. A compact hardy perennial grows up to 30 inches, with slender blue green leaves and fragrant lavender blue spikes of flowers that flower in summer.
For a lovely edging, lavender gives an informal look. Cut plants back almost to the crown in spring when first signs of new growth occur and after all chance of a hard freeze pass. Cutting back in spring encourages a symmetrical compact growth. Do not cut back below leaves in to the wood or the branch won't grow back. For drying, cut blossoms just as they are opening up. I bundle them in groups of 10 to 15 stems and hang to dry, in a cool, dry and dark garage. Keep blossoms picked to encourage plant to produce more flowers.
Grown for edging borders, flowers, drying and fragrance, lavender is also an excellent bee and butterfly plant. Arabs, Greeks and Romans used the shrub, a native to the Southern Alps, extensively as an antiseptic and toiletry herb, since ancient times. The Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans burned the twigs as incense, and the Greeks used it in sacrifices. French emperors used it in perfumery. Provencal peasants in the 16th century made lavender oil to heal wounds and expel intestinal parasites.
Now lavandula is used extensively for perfumes, aromatherapy and medicinally. The dried flowers are also used as a linen freshener and bug repellent.
Some of the more common varieties are:
Silvery gray indented leaves, flowers all summer long and hardy to about 0°.
Often called common lavender, it is very aromatic. An evergreen shrub makes a great two feet high hedge for edging borders of the herb garden or perennial garden. Blooming in July with bluish purple flowers, I cut the flower stalks, remove all the leaves, bundle with rubber bands, and hang upside down to dry. When dry, strip the flowers from stems and use in potpourris. See recipe below.
Lavandula 'Lavender Lady'
Easy to start from seed and will bloom the first year.
French lavender has dark purple flowers on ovoid spikes topped with lighter purple showy bracts. One of the first lavenders to bloom in the season. My favorites are 'Mary Medallia', named after a long term Pike Place Market vendor who sold this plant for years, and 'Otto Quast'. Pruned down below the blossom when they fade, it will bloom again in late summer into fall. L. 'Mary Medallia' occasionally blooms for me during winter.
Tips and Uses
When you entertain guests, provide a small bowl of blossoms which your guests may dip their fingers in after washing and drying their hands. This leaves a fresh lingering fragrance they will enjoy.
For a calming effect, rub a few drops of lavender oil into the nape of the neck, or sprinkle into a bath.
- 1 cup dried lavender flowers
- 3/4 cup dried rose petals
- 1/2 cup dried marjoram leaves
- 1/4 cup each dried mint and thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried orange peel
- 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves and cinnamon
- A few drops lavender oil.
Mix dried herbs and flowers in glass or earthenware jar. Seal for one to six weeks. Shake and stir every day.
The Genus Lavandula
Long prized by the fragrance industry for its essential oils, the genus Lavandula is steadily increasing in popularity among gardeners and horticulturists worldwide. This is the first full treatment of this important genus to be undertaken since 1937. It treats 40 species and their cultivars and hybrids, presenting their taxonomy, distribution, and the history of their cultivation. With several useful appendices, as well as chapters on cultivation, propagation, and pests and diseases, The Genus Lavandula is a comprehensive and authoritative account of this important genus. Exquisite paintings from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, complement the text.
by Debbie Teashon
Photos taken at Cedar Brook Farm in Sequim, Washington.