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Lavender, a beautiful and aromatic plant
Member Name: perfectly-p
Date: 29/08/07, updated on 29/08/07 (1528 review reads)
Advantages: Looks and smells lovely . Insects are attracted to the flowers.
Disadvantages: The plants don't last for ever.
Lavender looks good, smells lovely and has many practical uses. Indeed lavenders have been recorded in this country since the Roman times. They are a very versatile plant, valued for their aesthetic, aromatic, medicinal and culinary uses. In my opinion they make a lovely edging to a path so, as you brush past, their perfume is released.
Lavender can be grown from seed but they are not very easy; the seeds germinate slowly and they are not guaranteed to come up true to the parent plant, so in effect you could get any colour flower. They are readily available at most garden centres where you can buy a very small plant for not much more than a couple of pounds or a more substantial plant for ten pounds or more. In my opinion it is far better to buy a small plant and enjoy watching it grow. Also, if you are planting a lavender hedge for example you may need 10 or 20 plants and this will workout expensive if you go for the larger specimens.
Lavender likes a sunny position or with light shade but in well drained soil. When planting a small plant from a pot, add a handful of grit to the planting hole to aid drainage. If you have planted small young plants then they will probably not flower in their first year. If they do, the blooms should be removed to encourage new growth and branching. It is very hard to do this as you want to see the flowers now but if you do then next year they will be so much lovelier. Lavenders flower from June onwards. You need to cut back after flowering to maintain a good shape but you can also trim back or prune in the spring if you forget to do this in autumn. Cutting back encourages new growth and helps to prevent the plant from becoming too woody and makes the plant more compact and bushy. The newly planted plants will need light but regular watering until they are established and then, in my garden, they make do with what ever the weather brings.
You can always grow your lavender in pots. They do better if kept in a pot that is not too large as this extra space will encourage excessive dampness around the roots which can kill the plant. Make sure the pot has good drainage by placing about an inch or so of loose gravel at the bottom of the pot. This will prevent any water from collecting and causing root rot.
It is possible to propagate lavender. To do this, take small cuttings in autumn and place in small pots of seed or cutting compost. If you have a cold green house then over winter these cuttings in there, alternatively place the pots in a sheltered position and if possible protect from frost. Itís certainly worth a go as it doesnít cost anything and next summer if you donít want to plant them out you can always give them away as presents!
Unfortunately, even if you do everything right, these shrubs generally speaking are not long lived and most lavender plants begin to be past their best after about 10 years when they start looking rather woody.
Lavenders are native to the Mediterranean countries which is why they love dry and sunny conditions.
There are many different varieties ranging from dwarf varieties which only grow a few inches to some varieties which will grow to 4í or more. The flower colours can range between dark or pale pink, blue, white or purple. The new foliage is usually a bright green colour which then becomes a grey/green colour as the plants mature.
The two most popular types of lavender for our British climate are, not surprisingly, English lavender which has the name Angustifolia and the French or Stoechas lavender.
One of the most popular varieties of English lavender is probably Hidcote which has silvery grey leaves, deep blue/purple flowers with a compact and very aromatic head and a short stems and is excellent for hedging or edging a path so the perfume is released when brushed against.
Folgate has a good dark blue flower head with excellent scent. It grows to a medium height and can have a slightly wavy shaped stem.
Grosso is quite tall, has grey-blue flower heads and is widely grown for its strongly scented oil. It has a strong stem, compact flower and a powerful, long-lasting scent.
French Lavender is slightly less hardy and so needs a more sheltered growing position and some protection from frost. Compared to the English lavender these lavenders tend to have denser flower heads shaped like a giant acorn and large, coloured, petal-like bracts. Bracts are an adapted leaf of the flower colour that rises from the stem by the flower head, creating a winged or butterfly effect which to me look like bunny ears.
Papillon is a lovely pinky purple French lavender plant which is particularly fragrant. It has spikes of lavender-purple flowers, topped with the long, winged like tufts and flowers from late spring to mid-summer.
Kew Red has cherry red flowers with pale pink tufty ears. It has fragrant flowers and blooms from late spring to late summer. This plant has grey-green, aromatic leaves. It makes a neat, compact edging for a sunny path or border.
Fathead (love the name!) is a compact plant with very large deep pink flower heads with plum purple tufts which look like giant ears above the large round flower heads. They are perfect for edging paths or for a low growing hedge. The Fathead is also hardier than some of the other French lavenders and will survive all but the harshest of winters.
One of the most obvious and simple uses of lavender is to pick and dry the flowers. For best results the flowers need to be picked before the flower buds fully open otherwise they tend to drop. Hang the bunches upside down in a warm place with good air circulation but away from direct sunlight. As nice as it may look, do not at this stage tie the bunches with pretty ribbon or raffia but instead use an elastic band. The stems will shrink slightly as they dry and if you have used ribbon or raffia one day you will find your bunches on the floor, and the do make something of a mess (albeit a nice smelling mess!) as the small flower heads go everywhere!
When dry the stems can be placed as they are in a vase or jug. Alternatively you can snip the heads off to make a pot-pourri. Place in a bowl and put this in a sunny position. As it warms in the sunshine it will fragrance your room.
If you have snipped off the heads to make pot-pourri then donít throw the stems away. They can be put on the BBQ coals to make a lovely smelling smoke or if you are lucky enough to have a coal or wood burning fire indoors the stems will release their scent into the room. I like to do this when the fire had died down and just the embers are left hot.
I have used a very simple method to make lavender bags which is great fun for children as it doesnít require any sewing. Rub the flower heads off the stalks and collect in a bowl or old ice cream tub or similar. Buy some ladies cotton hankies Ė what ever colours you like and if there is lace on the edges thatís fine too. Alternatively use an old net curtain which you can buy from any charity shop and you will have loads of material for a couple of pounds. If using the net, cut out circles about 7-8Ē across, a tea plate is an ideal template. Place a pile of flower heads in the centre of the hankie or net circle, fold up the edges, give a little twist and tie with satin ribbon. Lavender bags can be placed in drawers or the wardrobe to fragrance the clothes and they will also protect from moths. Alternatively the bag can be placed under your pillow as lavender is said to be good for soothing headaches and encouraging restful sleep. They also make lovely gifts for older relatives!
Lavender also has many culinary uses although I must confess I have never used it for this purpose. I must first advise that flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centres must never be used for eating as they will often have been treated with pesticides. Two of the more palatable uses I know of are to use the crushed flowers as a substitute for rosemary in bread recipes or when cooking lamb; or the flowers can be put in a jar of sugar and sealed tightly for a couple of weeks for the flavour to percolate through (similar to how you would a cinnamon stick) then the sugar can be used to make cakes or biscuits.
Essential oil of lavender is produced from the flowers and flower-stalks, and has antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and can be bought ready prepared from many stores. The oil can be applied directly to a minor burn or sting to bring relief or rubbed into the temples to sooth a headache. When massaged into the neck and shoulder muscles, it may relieve tension. Lavender essential oil is also an insect repellent, so on a summers evening while having a BBQ you can wear it both as a perfume and to discourage the mosquitoes. The oil can be added to a warm bath to relax and gently perfume the skin or in the final rinse when washing your hair.
As with all things, I think those who are pregnant, have sensitive skin or are prone to reactions for any reason should take care and seek conventional medical advice before trying any of these do-it-yourself remedies.
I enjoy growing lavenders in my garden because they look lovely, the bees and insects love the flowers and most of all they smell gorgeous (the flowers, not the bees!).
Thank you for reading.
perfectly-p (I also write under the name of perfectlypolished)
Summary: Lavender looks good and smells lovely. It is easy to grow and has many practical uses. Try it!