Lavenders Blue – and Pink and Purple, Dilly Dilly

Lavender is a compact, bushy, semi-shrub with linear, grey-green leaves. In mid and late summer, long unbranched stalks produce fragrant, blue-purple flowers. First introduced in mid-sixteenth century, it is highly esteemed for its fragrance in a dried state.

Lavender is popular in the South of France, where the richly scented oil is used in the perfume industry. Why not bring the lovely fragrance and those pretty purple plumes to your balcony or to your garden? By planting this little shrub near your patio or in pots on your sitting area you can enjoy that sweet summer scent every day.

Lavender is an evergreen shrub which can be used in many different ways. There are not too many plants that thrive in the same dry, poor soil and sunny conditions that Lavender enjoys. For this reason, it is often planted in groups, or as a small hedge around borders or beds. It combines very well with roses, and has an added advantage in that it keeps them free from aphids, whilst attracting bees into the garden.

Lavender is also grown as a herb and has been used for medicinal purposes since the days of the Ancient Greeks –  even then it was known that the oils have a relaxing effect.

On the French Lavender fields you will not often find the original plant but a hybrid that produces more oil. This hybrid is called ‘Lavandin’ in French, whereas common Lavender is called ‘Lavande’. There are about 25 different types of Lavender, with the hardiest garden variety being Munstead. Lavender Loddon PinkOther varieties include Lodden Pink which is more compact and produces soft pink flowers, and Stoechas – French Lavender which has dark purple fragrant flowers.

Lavender (Lavandula) originally comes from the Mediterranean, but the plant has been grown in more northerly regions for many centuries. Lavender is not a very easy border plant to grow everywhere, needing a dry and, more importantly, very sunny position with a light soil. The sunnier the spot, the deeper the colour the flowers will be. In a dark spot or in rich or fertilized soil, the plant will go limp and collapse. The soil must be prevented from becoming too wet, particularly in winter. So if you have a heavy clay soil, mix it with sharp sand to improve drainage, or plant it in containers. Lavender can withstand frost and rain much better in a poor soil than in a rich one.

Prune for Shape

Pruning should be done from the very first year to encourage the bushy growth that is so essential for lovely spherical shrubs or full hedges. Failing to prune results in bare twigs with a few leaves at the tips.

lavender-cuttingsThe most important pruning is done at the end of March, to the beginning of April, as soon as the threat of severe frost is over. Cut the plants back to about two-thirds, and make sure that some foliage remains on the branches, or the plant cannot recover. Prune again in the summer between July and September, just after flowering. Lavender is easily cultivated from semi hardwood cuttings, taken around August.

To dry Lavender, cut the flowers early in the morning, about 10cm below the bloom. Hang them up in a dry place away from direct sunlight. Alternatively, if you can not bear to cut the lovely scented, garden flowers, prune them directly after the flowers have faded. The plant can still recover and grow before the winter season sets in.

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