Lavender may be a popular crop for humans, being a staple in most English gardens, but it is a flower that is highly attractive to bees and butterflies too. Planting some lavender could help to revive our pollinating insects that are so crucial to our planet and certainly something that First Tunnels would want everyone to support.
There are over 450 varieties of lavender, and it may seem like a daunting task to choose the right plant for you. However, lavender is one of the easiest to grow plants, which is drought and deer tolerant and offers a long flowering season. It is a plant much prized for its fragrance, and lavender continues to give long after its life in the garden. People dry lavender and they also turn it into an essential oil. It is known as a remedy for stress and insomnia, as well as offering culinary varieties that can be used in cooking.
For the gardener, lavender offers many options too. It works as edging and hedging, as an accent plant, as well as in containers. Here is the essential guide to growing your lavender.
Lavender is a small and tubular purple-blue blossom. It is a shrub and grows with up to ten stems that are angular and form a spike. It has a long flowering season but even at times when it does not flower it is an evergreen foliage, coloured a lovely silver-grey or grey-green.
Lavender is a hardy perennial that is native to the Mediterranean region. It is English Lavender, which is more commonly grown in the fields of Provence in France, that is the most commercially valuable. It is not only the most common flower to be found in the English garden but is also an essential ingredient for the perfume industry. English lavender and its hybrids are hardy varieties that can withstand winter in free-draining soil.
In Roman times, it was French Lavender that use to scent the washing water and the species L. Officinalis, or the official species, is grown for its medicinal properties.
Lavender is a perfect flowering border plant and works well in the herb garden. People also like to use lavender as a low hedge or an edging to a border. However, it also grows well in containers.
It is a plant that is native to the Mediterranean and therefore needs a lot of sun and well-drained soil. Even though it is hardy, it will not thrive in cold or shady areas for too long. If you want your lavender to succeed, then you will need to find chalky and alkaline soils. A heavy clay soil will cause rotting quite quickly.
It is best to plant lavender in the spring, in April and May. At this time of year, the soil is naturally warmer, and the new plants can thrive. If you plant younger plants in the winter, they can be vulnerable to rotting.
Lavender is equally suitable for planting in the ground and containers.
If you choose to plant the lavender in the ground, you need to prepare the garden soil. Dig it over and remove any weeds before planting. If you have heavy soil plant the lavender in a raised bed, giving the plants about 30cm for their roots. Once the soil is prepared, lavender is easy to plant and only takes a few minutes. You should plant your lavender as soon as possible after buying. Space your plants approximately 90cm apart if you wish to grow in groups. If you are planting the lavender as a hedge, then space the plants 30cm apart. After you plant, water in the plants, especially if you are planting in a dry period.
If you choose to plant in containers, you should select larger containers with a 30 – 40 cm diameter. You should also select a pot with drainage holes. Fill this with multipurpose compost, or loam-based compost, if you mix in a generous supply of coarse grit to improve the drainage. You should then position the plant in the new container at the same level as it was in the pot. Water the plants well and at regular intervals, twice a week. If the weather is hot increase the watering, so the soil doesn't dry out.
Newly planted lavender, both in the ground and the containers, need to be watered regularly throughout the first summer. Once established, lavender is drought tolerant and therefore does not need to be watered as often. You also do not have to worry about feeding, as lavender prefers soil that is relatively low in nutrients.
If you leave lavender to grow as it wishes it will become woody and clumsy looking. To maintain its good looks, you need to trim the plants back annually, in the late summer, just after they have finished flowering. Remove any flowers and stalks that are about an inch from the leaf growth. If you want it to look tidy, you can also cut it back in spring. If you do this, new growth will thrive from the stems. Do not cut back into the woody stems.
Before deadheading consider if you want to leave them in place for birds such as goldfinches.
The significant benefit of lavender is that it can be used as a fragrance for the home. If you preserve the flower through drying, it can be put into sachets or a bunched arrangement, and it will bring scent and beauty into the home.
Step 1: Harvest the lavender before it's in full bloom. Cut the lavender at the base of the stem just before the bud opens. Cutting this way will help the lavender retain a strong scent, and it will keep its colour. If your flower is matured, then you can cut them just above the leaves.
Step 2: Gather the lavender into a bunch and cut the bottom of the bunch to make them even. Tie the stems together with a rubber band. The rubber band will ensure the bunch will not slip when the stems shrink due to moisture loss.
Step 3: Find a dry, dark place and hang the lavender bunch upside down. Leave the lavender to dry for about two to four weeks.
Alternatively, you can dry the lavender in the sun. Again, harvest the stems before the buds open, and lay them on a block of wood, such as a cutting board. Put the board in a sunny spot and leave it to dry for a week. Although drying in the sun is quicker, you need to be sure that you are going to have a prolonged sunny period.
Lavender is such a useful plant. There are varieties for medicines, food and fragrance. These plants thrive best in warmer conditions, away from the wind and harsher weather conditions. They are also susceptible to rot in wetter, colder conditions. Therefore, if you are looking to cultivate lavender for all these other purposes, the use of a polytunnel could a) maximise your growing window b) protect the plant from harsher weather conditions and c) allow you to control the level of humidity using ventilation.
Lavender is one of those flowers that is quintessentially English. If you have ever visited Provence in France, you also know they thrive in the luscious conditions of the Mediterranean. It basks in the sun and loves those well-drained chalky soil. However, you can use the lavender as a hedge, an edge, as a border plant and as a beautiful addition to your container. If you choose lavender for your garden, you will also do your bit for the bees – who love to pollenate the flowers.