Lavender (Lavandula) belongs to the family Lamiaceae. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean region, Canary Isles, amd India. It is now grown in many different regions of the world. Lavender grows in well drained soil, in warm, sunny climates.
History of Lavender
Long before the world manufactured deodorants and bath salts, the Romans used lavender in their bath water. It’s name is derived from the Latin lava, “to wash.” It was the Romans who first introduced this plant to Britain, and from then on monks cultivated it in their monastic gardens. Little more was recorded until Tudor time when people noted its fragrance and a peculiar power to ease stiff joints and relieve tiredness. It was brought in quantities from herb farms to the London Herb Market at Bucklebury. You could hear on the streets as vendors cried,”Who will buy my lavender?”
It was also used as a strewing herb for its insect-repellent properties and for masking household and street smells. It was also carried in nosegays to ward off the plague and pestilence. In France in the seventeenth century, huge fields of lavender were grown for the perfume trade. This has continued to the present day.
Species of Lavender
This is another big family of plants that are eminently worth collecting. Here are some favorites that I would like to share.
- Lavandula angustifolia (L. Officinalis), Common/English Lavender is a hardy evergreen perennial. It grows to a height of 32”, and spread 3 ft. and bears mauve-purple flowers on a long spike in summer. They have long, narrow, pale, greenish-gray, aromatic leaves. One of the most popular and well known of the lavenders and it grows in Zone 5.
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Alba’ is also known as White Lavender. It is a hardy evergreen perennial, grows to 28” high, and spread 32”. It has white flowers on a long spike in summer and grows in Zone 5.
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Folgate’, also known as Lavender Folgate. It has a height and spread of 18”. It has purple flowers on a medium spike in summer, in Zone 5.
- Lavandula angutifolia ‘Bowles’ Early’, known as Lavender Bowles. It grows to a height and spread of 24” and has light blue flowers on a medium sized spike.
- Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’. Its height and spread is 18 “ and it has dark blue flowers. Zone 5
Other Zone 5 lavenders: ‘Loddon Blue’ with pale blue flowers, ‘Munstead’ with purple-blue flowers, ‘Nana Alba’ with dwarf white flowers, ‘Rosea’ with pink flowers, ‘Dutch’ has purple flowers, ‘Grappenhall’ has pale mauve flowers, and Old English Lavender with light lavender-blue flowers, Lavender ‘Seal’ with mid-purple flowers, and ‘Twickel Purple’ that has pale purple flowers.
-A Zone 6 Lavender that does well is Lavendula lanata, also known as Woolly Lavender. It is 20” high and spreads to 18” with deep purple flowers.
-A Zone 7 Lavender is Lavandula stoechas, French Lavender(sometimes called Spanish Lavender). It grows to 20” high and spreads to 24”. It has attracive purple bracts in summer.
-Lavendula stoechas f. Leucantha which is a white French Lavender with white bracts.
-Zone 8 will let you grow Lavendula stoechas subsp. Pendunculata has a height and spread of 24” and has purple bracts with an extra tuft, which is mauve and looks like two rabbit ears.
-Zone 9 and Lavender Viridis is a half-hardy evergreen perennial. It has a height and spread of 24.”
Propagation of Lavender
Lavender can be grown from seed but it tends not to come true to type, with the exception of Lavandula stoechas. Seeds should be sown fresh in the fall on the surface of a seed or plug tray and covered with perlite. It gerinates fairly readily with a bottom heat of 40-50 degrees F. You can winter them seedlings in a cold greenhouse with plenty of ventilation. In the spring, prick out and repot using the bark-peat-grit-mix of potting soil. Let the young plant establish a good-sized root ball before planting out in a prepared site in the early summer. For other species you will find cuttings much more reliable.
Taking Lavender Cuttings
Take softwood cuttings from nonflowering stems in spring. Root in bark-peat-grit mix of potting soil. Take semihardwood cuttings in summer or early fall from the strong new growth. Once the cuttings have rooted well, it is better to pot them up and winter the young lavenders in a cold greenhouse rather than plant them out in the first winter. In the spring, plant them out in well-drained, fertile soil, at a distance of 18-24 in. Apart or 12 inch apart for an average hedge.
Layering of Lavender
This is easily done in the fall. Most hardy lavenders respond well to this form of propagation.
Pests and Diseases of Lavender
The flowers in wet seasons may be attacked by gray mold (Botrytis). This can occur all too readily after a wet winter. Cut back the infected parts as far as possible, again remembering not to cut into the old wood if you want it to shoot again.
There is another fungus that attacks the stems and branches causing wilting and death of the affected branches. If this occurs, dig up the plant immediately and destroy, keeping it well away from any other lavender bushes.
Lavender is one of the most popular plants in today’s herb garden and is particularly useful in borders, edges, as internal hedges, and on top of dry walls. All the species need an open sunny position and a well-drained, fertile soil. But is will adapt to semi-shade as long as the soil conditions are met, otherwise it will die in winter. If you have very cold winter temperatures, it is worth growing in containers.
The way to maintain a lavender bush is to trim it to shape every year in the spring, remembering not to cut into the old wood as this will not re-shoot. After flowering, trim back to the leaves, making sure this is well before the first fall frosts. Otherwise the new growth will keep te bush neat and encourage it to make new growth, keeping it from becoming woody.
You should gather the flowers just as they open, and dry them on open trays or by hanging in small bunches. Pick the leaves anytime for use fresh, or before flowering if drying.
Medicinal Uses of Lavender
Lavender has also been used medicinally to soothe, sedate, and suppress. Today the oil is essential and in great demand. The oil was traditionally inhaled to prevent vertigo and fainting. It is an excellent remedy for burns and stings, and its strong antibacterial action helps to heal cuts. The oil also kills diphtheria and typhoid bacilli as well as streptococcus and pneumococcus.
Other Uses of Lavender
- Use 6 drops of oil to bath water to calm irritable children.
- Place 1 drop on the temple for a headache relief
- Blend the lavender for use as a massage oil for throat infections, inflammation, skin sores, rheumatic aches, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
- Lavender sachets make good presents and can be used as moth repellent.
- Rub fresh lavender flowers onto your skin
- Try pinning a sprig on clothes to discourage flies.
Use flowers in potpourri, herb pillows, and linen sachets, where they make a good moth repellent.
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