Lavender Lovers Forever
Choosing your Lavender
Lavender Lovers Forever Ahh, I stand in a swirl of scented purple air spilling out of my drying shed. My harvest safely hung in the rafters like an upside down sea of finger coral.
Summers clock ticks on. Soon enough it will be time to rub the dried flowers off the stems for my projects and yours. Busy hands will rub the bundles, heads down, the elastics help keep the stems in the bundle, as the flower buds fall over a bedding sheet or tablecloth. A quantity of the discarded stems, elastics intact, become winters fire starters… the screened flower buds weighed up into pound measurements, minus bumblebee parts!
For the moment I am content, content just to pause here and store up the scent of my summer. Purple sunshine and Lavender breezes!
Store your rubbed sweet lavender flowers ideally in glass containers; rigid plastic is the next best choice. Lightly bleached and rinsed ice cream buckets, the 11 litre size from any shop that sells Island Farms Ice Cream, have a good moisture proof snap lid that doesn't break all your finger nails off to open! Dry, cool and in the dark, your dried Lavender will last years.
Potpourris will last as long as it smells when ruffled. Open bowls dissipate the scent faster than a closed canister style that you open now and again to scent a room for company or pleasure. Do prep your real Orrisroot chips with your choice of essential oils in a small glass jar for 2-3 days before blending into the dried petals and leaves. Age the complete mix 6-8 weeks for a more mature rounded scent - longer lasting too, then package. (I use 3 tbsp Orrisroot per 1-gallon potpourris botanicals).
Dream pillows are an alternative to potpourris; the scents are subtle and sleep inducing. Using the herbs that naturally have calming or sleep inducing properties can eliminate the need for essential oils and Orrisroot. Colour and texture are not a concern as the dream pillow blend is stitched into soft-brushed cottons or velvets. Think sleep. Think cosy. Herbs to use are Chamomile, Roses, Lavender, Rose Geranium, Skullcap, Vervain, Catnip, with Mugwort traditionally as a good 1/3 of the blend as a base.
Then I move into the kitchen and 'stillroom' with my Sweet Lavender. From cooking to cosmetics and crafts! All this while it is the Sweet Lavender I am using (Lavandula angustifolia or Lavandula officianalis, Lavandula vrai). The bloom can be blue, purple, pink or white. Grown in England, France, and Tasmania - actually worldwide now thanks to the Romans originally taking it on tour! Here's a review - I divide the basic Lavender family into four. First the sweet or English varieties, next the French and Spanish, thirdly the Spike or Monks, and fourthly the Lavadins.
I save the fancy semi-tropical 'Spanish' or 'French' varieties for patio pots or fresh bouquets. (These are not poisonous but certainly not tasty to my tongue!) Look for two particularly outstanding bloomers - for the Spanish Lavandula stoechas "Otto Quast". It blooms from March or April to October even in colder Happy Valley. It is known by its' characteristic 'bunny eared' blooms, commonly known as a "papillion" or "butterfly" lavender. For a French choice try Lavandula spp. "Goodwin Creek Gray". Choice silvery cut foliage, deep violet slender blooms that also attract hummingbirds! Again a long bloomer, it prefers a more sheltered site for the winter. Both require full sun and excellent drainage for our rainy periods. Let me add a third Lavender here that, considering it comes from the Canary Islands, it is surprisingly hardy. Try the "Green" Spanish (Lavandula viridis). It truly is a startling, eye-catching chartreuse yellow green in leaf and flower spike. Its' bloom has 'bunny ears' like "Otto Quast", the bracts being the upper coloured petals that give it 'wings'.
The rage at the moment is category four, the Lavadins. Originally a cross between a Lavandula angustifolia and the tall original Monks Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), it is larger Lavender developed for its abundance of both flowers and oils for commercial growing. Three easy to find varieties are
- Lavandula x intermedia "Grosso"
- and "Fred Boutin"
These are not grown from seed, being a hybrid but rather from cuttings. If you have one now and desire more, try cuttings yourself before the end of September.
As I write I have a waist high row of Monks Lavender and Lavadin in full bloom. My son and daughter are weaving their fingers off making holiday funds from Lavender wands, threading thin ribbon round and round the elegant fresh heads. This is one project you must do in the fresh season, as the stems need to be pliable to weave. My mother-in-law in England taught this to my husband-to-be before he even met Lavender-lover me!
So take a moment to take stock of what Lavenders you are growing now… what were successes? What took too much fuss? (Compost). What do you covet that you saw in someone else's garden! September - October is a great time to plant almost anything. Do water the hole first and the plant. Tuck some bone meal or rock phosphate in the bottom to make new roots before true winter arrives. Next spring your Lavenders will bulk up and bloom twice as big. If you've left any bloom stems on, only lightly trim now. Wait until next spring; say in April when you trim your Roses, to do a severe "haircut" or reshaping if you missed late summer. This reduces any winter die back. This takes us almost up to November- time to hibernate!!!
Hopefully you have a stash of dried Sweet Lavender from your summer to play with in your home this winter...
Originally published in the August/September 2002 edition of the Metchosin Muse