Lavender - the loveliest of herbs
By Carole McCray
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My feeling is one can never have enough lavender in a garden. I have lavender in my perennial bed and my herb garden. Two favorites are "Munstead" and "Hidcote." Both are Lavandula angustifolia, English lavenders, hardy to zone 5. A new one added to my garden is Lavandula Intermedia, and the plant tag reads Phenomenal.
Hidcote lavender has deep, violet-blue flowers and silver-gray foliage. Its growth habit reaches to about two feet tall. Munstead's flowers are lighter in color and foliage is a gray-green color. Munstead appears less compact and can grow from one to two feet tall. Phenomenal is true to its name; a winter hardy compared to Hidcote and Munstead which can die back over the winter. Slender spikes of purple adorn Phenomenal's mounded shape from mid-summer into early fall.
Lavender grows wild all along the Mediterranean in dry, stony soil in full sun. One of the biggest problems with growing lavender is too much moisture. Lavender's purple, spiky blooms complement plants such as roses and peonies as good companion plants. Because it can take the heat, lavender pairs up well with coneflowers, sedums and Shasta daisies, also heat-tolerant plants.
Looking back at lavender's past, we learn the word "lavandula" is said to be derived from the Latin "lavrare," meaning to wash. Today it is not uncommon to store freshly dried linens with dried blooms of lavender. The term "lavendress" became associated with washerwomen in the twelfth century referred to as a lavendress. Lavender water's clean scent can freshen bed linens and closets and makes a lovely rinse in laundry.
Dry lavender's flower heads when tight in bud so the essential oils are not lost. Cut them on a sunny day, preferably when there have been two consecutive sunny days after a rain. The following tips are some ways to enjoy the many uses of lavender:
• Add them to potpourris and sachets.
• Even the stems are fragrant. They can be tied into small bundles and added to kindling for emitting a pleasant scent in the fireplace.
• Make a lavender "bottle" by taking lavender flowers and encasing them in their own stems. Your lavender "bottle" can be hung in a closet, placed in a bowl or basket to scent a room, or added to a linen closet or a dresser drawer.
• Fresh or dried lavender flowers can be used in cooking. Culinary uses of the finely chopped flowers are nice additions to iced tea, lemonade, cakes, cookies, breads and fruit salads.
If you dry the flower heads, place them in a cool, dark place. Hang the lavender upside down by securing it with string and a rubber band. Place lavender on hooks or on a line in a spot such as a closet, a garden shed or attic. Once the flower heads fill crisp to the touch, that is a sign the lavender flower heads are dry. When dried, store flower heads in an airtight container in a cool, dry location until you are ready to use them.
Lovely in the garden and useful in the home, lavender has many attributes to be enjoyed year long.
Carole McCray resides in Cape May, New Jersey and is an award-winning garden writer who has been writing a monthly garden column, The Potting Shed, for regional newspapers for nearly 20 years.
Directions for creating a lavender bottle
• For one bottle, cut about four dozen stalks of lavender with long stems.
• At the point just below the flower heads, tie the stalks with string.
• While keeping stalks upright, carefully bend stalks over the flower heads and form a cage for the buds.
• Using twine or a lovely ribbon, tie the bent stems together at the base of the flower heads. Gently knot and tie to form a bow.
• Clip stems making sure all are even.
• Lay the finished bottle flat in a basket in a cool, dark closet to dry for about a week.
• Once the bottle is completely dried, carefully cut the string and discard.
Footnote: You can keep it simple or weave a pretty ribbon through the stems.