I’m sure that when the Romans packed their favourite deodorant, sprigs of lavender, in their toilet bags before they crossed the stormy seas to invade Britain they wouldn’t have thought that almost 16 centuries later lavender be one of our favourite garden plants.
Lavender’s unforgettable perfume pops up in all kinds of places from furniture polish and insect repellent to sensuous massage oils so even if you don’t know much about the plant you’ll no doubt already appreciate it for its fine fragrance and it ability to draw every bee in the neighbourhood to visit your garden!
In the garden none of its values go unnoticed – along with ornamental grasses, it’s the perfect drought-buster
On hot summer days during June, July and August the sun-baked leaves and spiky flowers emit their intoxicating fragrance but you don’t have to wait for the sun to shine to get a whiff. Simply plant it along the edge of a path or do what I do and plant carpets of it by your favourite garden seat so that when you brush by the scent is released.
Lavenders silver-grey foliage and blue-purple flowers are not difficult to place in the garden. The colour compliments all flowers in pastel pinks, blues and white and looks just as stunning when partnered with red, yellow or orange.
It’s an especially good companion for roses or lilies and is an essential ingredient of the traditional cottage border and herb garden. You can grow it tubs and make it the star performer of a seaside or Mediterranean style scheme that features all drought-loving plants in a rock-strewn bed of gravel.
The variety Hidcote is excellent for making a dwarf hedge – buy 30 garden-ready plants for £14.95 from mr-fothergills.co.uk
One of the best-loved lavenders is the English Lavender or Lavendula angustifolia. Hidcote is one of 40 cultivars available, which are not only some of the hardiest lavender plants but also highly prized by perfumers for making essential oils. This compact variety is just 45cm tall with luminous violet-blue flowers that appear in mid-summer, standing out against the fragrant silvery-green foliage.
Plant it along the edge of a path so that it releases its sensuous and soothing, smoky-sweet fragrance when lightly brushed against. Alternatively, line your paths with Hidcote Pink or the pure white variety Alba. Make the paths wider than you want them to allow room for vigorous lavender to spread out and soften the edges without obstructing the walkway.
In a small garden edge beds or around the rim of a large tub with Nana Alba, which is just 15cm tall. The variety Twickel Purple, which makes a more rounded bun-shape and has comparatively broad, grey-green leaves and purple flowers on long spikes will also make a statement in a pot.
Another favourite lavender is Munstead, which has pretty deep blue flowers
Munstead was named after the garden of that well-known Edwardian gardener, Gertude Jekyll who was an acclaimed horticulturist, garden designer and prolific writer, who many called the “Queen of colour”. She used lavender as one of the key ingredients for her famous herbaceous border at her home in Munstead Wood.
Her border scheme, which has become a source of inspiration for many gardeners, is planted with lavenders and other plants in cool greys and mauve shades at one end that run through the spectrum ending up at strong oranges and reds at the other end of the long border then back again, through yellow, to the quietness and space of blue.
White lavenders are especially popular today and Arctic Snow, which has blooms that shine bright against its aromatic grey leaves is often used in minimalist contemporary gardens and by cottage gardeners to give a ‘hot’ colour scheme a bit of light relief or as an informal flowering border edging or mini hedge
Gardeners that prefer a contemporary, minimalist scheme often like to turn the plants into tightly clipped balls that are used as the star performer in tall, tapered terracotta pots on a patio or in a Mediterranean style rock-strewn bed of gravel. Combined with other lavender varieties, lavender make good bedfellows for drought-busting plants like sage, ground-hugging thyme and statement plants like spiky-leaved phormiums, cordylines and agaves.
When using lavender as ground cover, be creative and plant it to make different coloured stripes
The variety Folgate produces a neat, erect evergreen bush growing up to 75cm tall making it ideal for a low hedge and for giving the garden structure throughout the year. It blooms once in early to mid May and you will enjoy a second, albeit a smaller flush of flowers if the plant is lightly trimmed immediately after the flowers fade. You can cut the flowers for a vase indoors, dry them and rub off the individual florets to use as potpourri or make into scented sachets for your undies drawer.
The taller forms of Dutch lavender or Lavendula x intermedia, can reach a stately 90cm can also be used as hedging and as statement shrubs in small gardens. Both the flowers and foliage are highly aromatic and its fat flower heads can reach up to 8cm long.
For stunning effect, go for mass planting to create a tapestry of weed suppressing colour. When growing lavender en masse or as a hedge, place plants 35 – 45 cm apart and trim the plants lightly in spring and again after flowering to maintain their shape and flowering potential.
If you have a taste for the unusual, then seek out Lavandula dentate. This lavender is easily identified by the leaves, which as the name suggests have deep “teeth” up their entire length. As the plant is more sensitive than most to frost, grow it as summer bedding, planting it out at the end of May and bring it indoors for the winter
Another lavender that is not so hardy in this country is the French lavender, Lavendula stoechas
French lavender grows to 30-40cm tall, making an eye-catching plant with a tuft of purple flag or rabbit ear-like bracts at the top of its purple flower spikes. It needs plenty of sunshine but you might want to avoid putting it too close to sitting areas though, as the tiny fragrant blooms are so full of sweet nectar, that they are constantly buzzing with foraging bees, so will make your favourite sitting area a most lively place!
Although sun-loving, lavender will grow in most garden situation providing the soil is well drained – the foliage will quickly turn yellow if the ground is waterlogged.
It is also a virtually no-maintenance plant. Give it annual trim after flowering to prevent plants becoming straggly. To revive neglected plants simply give them a quick trim as the weather warms up in spring to generate strong, new growth.
Lavender is easy to propagate from cuttings, so as an insurance policy always take a few cuttings of this and other frost-sensitive varieties every year in early summer whilst the stems are still pliable, but will snap if bent. Roots should form in 3-6 weeks. Once rooted, the cuttings can be potted then transplanted into the garden.
Another great thing about lavender…
Lavender plants are a magnet to bees and butterflies so plant them close to fruit and vegetables that needs pollinating and plants that are being grown for their ornamental seed heads
The spikes of lavender can be collected just as the florets are opening and hung to dry and used for making wreathes or stripped from their stalks and used in pot pourris and scented sachets. Pick a day when you’re feeling especially stressed to strip the dried blooms from the stalk – its fragrance, on or off the plant, has the peculiar power to ease the mind and relieve tiredness!
To dry lavender cut the stems as soon as the flowers are opening and begin to show colour, and hang small bunches upside down in a cool, airy place. The leaves can be dried too but they are not as fragrant
Lavender blooms are edible. Their aromatic flavour combines well with chicken and is useful for making vinegars, puddings, biscuits and cakes and to use as garnish – transform the look of simple green salad by with a sprinkling of blooms
After pruning, you can burn the lavender stalks to disinfect and perfume a room or bundle them up and drop them into the pond to help clear green water.
Rub lavender shoots on kitchen counters to discourage flies. Ants too, hate the distinctive aroma and can be deterred by entering your home by a strategically placed pot by the back door. Putting lavender sachets with clothes it will also deter moths.
Its silver-grey foliage compliments any type of flower and especially those in shades of pastel pink, blue and white. The purple-blue flowered varieties are also a great bedfellow for bright red, yellow and orange blooms.
Lavender is an especially good companion for roses or lilies and whilst it is an essential ingredient of the traditional cottage border they have since medieval times been a signature plant in herb gardens
The blooms have been used in the kitchen to make centuries-old recipes. To cook with lavender, you must plant the sweetest scented varieties like Hidcote and Munstead and use them to flavour biscuits, scones and cakes and to make a calming and refreshing tea.
Using lavender in the kitchen
Add a half dozen flower spikes to several cups of sugar and seal for a week to make delicious lavender sugar to sweeten hot or iced green or black tea and to use in baking
Infuse chopped lavender flowers in warm milk and steep for an hour or two, then strain out the lavender and use the flavoured milk to make custard.
Make lavender syrup by combining 200g sugar, 120ml water, 60ml sweet dessert wine and 2 tablespoons of orange juice. Heat the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of chopped lavender flowers and remove from the heat. Steep for 1 to 2 hours, than strain out the lavender. Pour this fragrant syrup over fresh fruit and garnish with fresh mint leaves.
Steep 4 teaspoons of chopped lavender flowers in a cup of warmed honey with a tablespoon of lemon or limejuice for an hour. Reheat and strain out lavender. Drizzle this floral spread onto fresh toast with sweet butter or cream cheese.
Fresh lavender can be substituted in most savoury recipes that call for rosemary – just use twice as much lavender as rosemary. Add sprigs of lavender to the white-ash coals the last 15 minutes of grilling lamb, pork or salmon steaks on the bbq. The aromatic oils of the lavender add a wonderful herbal smoke flavour to the finished meat or fish.
Chop up fresh or dried lavender and combine with lemon juice and olive oil as a rub for pork or lamb. Marinate for several hours before grilling for a delicious rich flavour.