I've had several questions about lavender this spring. Most gardeners wonder if their lavender survived the winter, but others want to know how to use it.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is an ancient herb. It has been a long-time favorite in cottage gardens and edging. Lavender is long revered in literature and song. Today, lavender is a key ingredient in soaps and shampoo, perfume and toilet water, sachet bags, potpourri, and even seasoning blends. The essential oil of lavender is currently enjoying additional interest because of its use in aromatherapy for its relaxation properties and other therapeutic constituents.
Lavender is mostly known for its flowers. The spikes of lavender flowers range from white and pale pink through the deepest royal purple. Individual flowers are ¼-1/2" long, very fragrant, and arranged in whorls to form a spike. Lavender blooms in the summer from mid-June through July. The gray leaves are also fragrant.
Several cultivars are available with differing characteristics. 'Gray Lady' in a fast, compact grower with gray foliage and lavender-blue flowers. 'Hidcote' is a popular cultivar with deep violet-blue flowers and silver-gray foliage. 'Munstead' is early flowering and compact with lavender-blue flowers.
Lavender is extremely difficult to start from seed due to its long germination time and stratification requirement. Instead, start new plants with stem cutting in summer, clump division in the fall, or buy plants. The plants prefer full sun and well-drained soil. Plants grown in heavy soils will have soft growth, which can create a hardiness problem. Hardiness is the most common problem with growing lavender.
Prune them lightly in April to remove dead wood and to keep plants from becoming straggly. Be careful, though, not to cut the plant back too far or new buds will not break. Remove faded flowers to encourage new flowers in August and to produce a compact growth habit. Provide heavy mulch during winter for winter protection. In general though, allow the plant to grow undisturbed indefinitely.
Lavender has many uses in the garden. It works well in rock gardens, cut flower gardens, and formal herb gardens. It makes a handsome edging for walks or ponds or can be trimmed into a low hedge.
I grow a lot of lavender in my gardens. I harvest it each fall and use it to make tea, potpourri, and incense.
If you don't already grow lavender in your garden, give it a try.