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Member Name: sandemp
Advantages: Smells and looks great, has uses around the house, attracts bees
Disadvantages: Considered old - fashioned
I am in no way a seasoned gardener, in fact I sincerely feel that even trying to describe myself as an amateur is an insult to those who have years of experience. Instead I would class myself as an enthusiastic beginner, having only really starting getting interested in horticulture in the last eighteen months. So if you're looking for a review of growing lavender from an expert's point of view, then this isn't it. What this is, is a look at my experiences of growing lavender as someone whose gardening skills generally stop at mowing the lawn.
Although I'm quite lucky in having a reasonably large back garden as well as a smallish front garden, I have tried to buy plants that are productive as well as decorative. This means the beds in the back garden have been totally given up to fruit and vegetables (many of which are attractive as well as edible). The front garden is a slightly different matter, with the borders full of flowers to attract bees, although most of the flowers also have other uses. There are plenty of pansies that not only look pretty, but are also edible, but pride of place is taken by three lavender bushes. I chose lavender, because not only does it look beautiful, but it smells gorgeous, attracts a multitude of bees and there are plenty of uses for the flower heads within the home.
I bought my lavender plants from my local garden centre at the end of last summer, which meant that the plants were a little straggly, but were also half price. What really amazed me was how many different varieties of lavender there were for sale. From what would come into most people's minds when they think of lavender, silvery green spiky leaves with tight purple flower heads at the ends of long stems, to much bushier pale green leaves and larger cream flower heads. Apparently there are over 39 species in the lavender genus (or lavandula to give it it's Latin name) with over 400 varieties, there you learn something new every day. Anyhow, I chose three different varieties to plant in my front border, all of which were fairly large, well established plants and cost me just £3.99 each.
I already knew that lavender would grow pretty well in the area where I live as many of the local gardens sport some magnificent displays of the purple heads. Although the soil here is quite heavy with a little clay, I had already dug it over, incorporated some compost and as the previous tenants had simply covered the border in gravel, the soil was pretty free-draining. Which from what I can gather is perfect soil conditions for lavender. Lavender also likes a lot of sunlight, which is brilliant as the sun is on my front garden from early morning until late evening.
Now, apparently the best time to plant lavender is from spring to early summer, with those planted in late summer being less likely to survive the winter frosts. Well someone should have told my plants that, because I planted them in late-summer, the end of July to be exact and they survived the harshest winter we've had in over a decade. To plant them was simple enough, I gave the plants a good watering then dug a hole just a little bigger than the pot before unceremoniously turning the lavender out of the pot, dumping it in the hole and filling the gaps up with compost. After firming the soil around each plant I gave them another good water, then spread wood chips around them (to match the rest of the beds) and then left them to it, giving them a weekly water along with the rest of the plants out the front.
Over the next few months each of the bushes thrived, growing in both girth and height and producing wave after wave of flower right up until we were hit by the cold weather in November. As it was their first year I decided to just leave them be, without any pruning hoping that they would start flowering again this year. What I wasn't counting on was us having the worst winter in over twenty years, with some rather cold temperatures and lots of snow, so I'll admit that I was half expecting them to die. But no, this spring they once more started growing and the first flowers appeared at the end of May and we've had a steady display that looks like continuing for the near future.
Having bought three different varieties of lavender, I can categorically state that what each plant's foliage and flowers look like can vary wildly along with how large the plant grows and the amount of fragrance they give off. My largest lavender appears to be of the traditional English variety, and is a fairly large bush of over a metre in height and a little larger in girth. This plant has grown significantly in the single year we've had it, more than quadrupling in size. The narrow tapering leaves are a silvery green and the flower heads are produced on long spikes. The heads them selves are a gorgeous deep lilac/purple and both flowers and foliage have a lovely sweet scent when crushed.
My other two lavender plants are significantly smaller being less than half a metre in height with far greener foliage. The flowering spikes are also far shorter and these do look as if they wouldn't be out of place in rockery. The flower heads are much larger with one of the plants producing delicate pink flowers and the other producing cream flowers. While these smaller plants do still produce a scent, it's not nearly as strong as the larger plant.
Personally, all three of the different types (I have no idea of their names) have different qualities to be admired. The larger traditional plant looks incredibly striking, smells great and produces lots of flowers for use in the home. But the larger flowers on the smaller plants look gorgeous and certainly seem to be more attractive to bees, it's very rare that there's not a bee sampling their delights. I also think those smaller varieties would look better in the smaller garden where the larger variety would soon take over.
==Caring For Your Lavender==
Please note, that's I've had to look this information up, my own lavenders have had very minimal care up to this point, nothing more than watering once a week. From what I can tell they need very little care during the growing season, hey mine would tell you that that's the case. It is, however, a good idea to prune them at least once a year and before the frost sets in. So this year, I'll be cutting back the foliage by about a third, to encourage new growth and reduce the amount of the bush that goes woody. When pruning, I'll have to be careful not to cut into the woody growth as this may kill the plant.
It is possible to take cuttings to increase the number of lavender plants in the garden, but to be honest I've no where nearly turned my fingers green enough to give this a go yet. It's also possible to grow lavender from seed, but this seems a lot of effort when I can buy well established plants at a fairly low price, if I wait until the end of the season.
As I stated at the beginning, I like my plants to be multi-functional and lavender is about as multi-functional as you can get. The foliage looks (and smells) nice, the flowers are pretty (and attract bees) and when dried the flowers can be used for a multitude of different uses in the house. Firstly, they look quite pretty just as a bunch of cut flowers in a jam jar, I currently have a jam jar full on my windowsill and every now and again I squash a head between my fingers to release the scent.
Of course lavender is pretty well used in perfumes and other scented products, including many bath products that are said to promote sleep. While I do dry my lavender heads, I can't say that I've ever tried to extract the oil, I'd imagine you'd need to grow an awful lot of lavender to make it worthwhile, but if you want to give it a go there's plenty of websites out there. Just so you know, Lavender oil does have some pretty good properties, including aiding sleep, antiseptic, mood lifting and even pain relief, but it's not advisable for pregnant women to use it.
I've been harvesting my lavender flowers little and often this year, cutting the stems long enough to enable me to tie them in bunches for drying. I try to cut it when the majority of the flowers are still closed and the plant has had time to dry after rain or dew. I then tie the bunches together using a hair band and hang them inside my airing cupboard to dry. It generally takes a week for them to dry out and then they're ready for all the various uses.
One nice use for dried lavender heads is to make little scented drawer pillows, by simply sewing two pieces of material together and then filling them with the heads. This gives a nice gift for female relatives, which I find is always appreciated. If sewing isn't your thing, then even easier is to buy some little handkerchiefs and ribbon. Take a hankie, put a small handful of dry flowers in the middle, draw up the four corners and then tie with the ribbon. So simple, and a great way for little ones to make extra special presents. The little bag idea can also be used to make sleep aides, simply place the lavender bag under your pillow.
Lavender can also be used to make a relaxing bath, either chuck a handful in a running bath (not so relaxing when it comes to cleaning that out), or tie in a muslin and place under the running hot tap. This releases the lovely relaxing aroma, which aides relaxation, lifts your mood and may even help any small cuts and grazes heal.
Dried lavender can also be used in various ways to freshen your home. It can be added to a basic pot pouri mix, to send it's aroma around. Or you can put a few heads in some water in the bowl of a wax tart burner and then light a tea light below it to freshen a room. Or place some heads in a bowl of water and put the bowl on a hot radiator. Do you have pets and is that doggy aroma pervading your carpets? Well mix some dry lavender flowers with bicarbonate of soda, sprinkle over your carpet, wait ten minutes then vacuum it up. Not only will your carpets smell gorgeous, but so will your vacuum cleaner (who needs shake n vac).
The final use for lavender is as a culinary ingredient, now this isn't something that I'm all that sure about. Sure lavender looks pretty and smells nice, but I'm not quite ready to add it to my biscuits yet. There are plenty of recipes available online, if you're ready to give it a go, but do make sure that you haven't used any pesticides on your plants.
There you have it, lavender, a plant that looks pretty while growing, smells divine, attracts bees, has multiple uses in the home and is remarkably easy to grow. I do love my lavender bushes and there's a variety that's suitable for almost any garden. Old-fashioned, maybe, but still a plant that I would recommend to anyone who has the space. If you have a large garden then go for one of the larger varieties, if space is at a premium then there are smaller varieties. So although lavender may not be to everyone's taste, I have no hesitation to give it five stars out of five.
Summary: Lovely plant that's easy to grow