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Lavender is such a remarkable choice of herb to grow in your garden. It is loved by bees in summertime and emits a beautiful scent for months on end. Lavender is widely grown, often planted as edging for beds or grown to form an attractive low growing hedge. Lavender flowers also make wonderful, dried flower arrangements and add a relaxing scent to your home.
Lavandula ‘Munstead’ is an impressive compact evergreen shrub, that truly marks the scent of summer. It grows up to 45 cm tall, with narrow, grey-green foliage and spikes of small, highly fragrant, blue-purple flowers in mid to late summer.
Most common varieties of Lavender
English lavender: (Lavandula Angustifolia)
French lavender: (Lavandula Dentata)
We recommend you keep the following in mind when planting and growing Lavender:
Sunshine: Plant lavender in an area where it will get 6-8 hours sunshine each day. It will not thrive in a shady area.
Watering: While lavender is extremely drought resistant once established, it grows larger and produces more blooms with regular watering for the first 2-3 weeks after planting. Ensure when watering, the plant gets a good soaking, then let it go dry, it doesn’t like wet feet.
Planting: Lavender needs to have enough room to grow, therefore they should be planted at least 2.5 feet apart. The most important factor for lavender is drainage. Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Incorporate organic matter if necessary to loosen soil for easy drainage. A sloping bed provides ideal growing conditions. To protect lavender plants from harsh winters, it is also a good idea to plant lavender next to a stone or brick wall, which will provide additional heat and protection throughout winter. For contrasting foliage and colours a lovely idea is to plant a row of low growing rosemary in front of a row of tall growing English lavender. Or for extra fragrance grow lavender near scented geraniums as they enhance each other’s perfume.
Soil conditions: Free draining, neutral pH or slightly alkaline soil is best. If your soil is slightly acidic then you can add some lime and this should be sufficient. If you have wet soil, add grit to improve drainage.
Pruning: It is really important to give lavender a really good haircut to about 2 inches above the wood. This will keep the plant nice and tight. Without adequate pruning it will otherwise become a sprawling woody plant. However, be careful, avoid pruning back so far that only the woody stems with no leaves are showing. Pruning can either take place in early autumn after the plants have finished flowering or in early spring before the onset of new growth. Deadhead throughout summer, this will encourage a long flowering season. It will take lavender about 3 years to reach full size.
Rehabilitating an older woody plant: To save and reshape a leggy woody plant, prune it back in stages. Pruning a lavender to the point where it has no foliage will most likely kill it. In spring, cut the foliage back by one third to stimulate new growth. Then, after the new foliage has grown in, cut that back by one third to stimulate new growth at the base of the plant. If new growth does break at the base of the plant, prune the plant back to just above the new growth. Never prune out old wood unless it is completely dead.
Potted Lavender: Lavender grows well in pots as long as there is enough sunshine and enough room to accommodate the plants large root system. If you plant in pots, use well draining potting soil mixed with gravel. Potted plants tend to dry out more quickly, therefore more watering is required, particularly during summer months. During winter, the lavender plant will need very little watering. Wait until the compost is very dry and then water directly onto the compost, do not water over the leaves.
Harvesting Lavender: Harvest the flowers early in the morning, when the oils are at their peak. Choose spikes bearing flowers that are just beginning to open. Snip the stems well below the flowers. Use string or rubber bands to bundle into small bunches. Hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. Check the stems for dryness in two to three weeks. Strip the flowers from the stems.
You can use the dried flowers in sachets or potpourri. You can also crush the stems for seasoning food. Both flowers and stems will add flavor to vinegar, salad dressing and countless dishes in the kitchen. Lavender is also a natural repellent for moths. Put sachets of lavender in your drawers and closets to keep moths away from your favorite clothes. You’ll also get the added benefit of lavender’s fragrance throughout your house.
The most commonly asked question about lavender is: “What is the difference between English lavender and French lavender?”
Both French and English lavender, are the most commonly grown in Ireland, they are both part of the mint family, the main differences between these two varieties of lavender include their range of flower, colour, bloom time, size and level of hardiness.
English Lavender (Lavandula Angustfolia): Sweetest smelling of all lavenders and is the source of most of the lavender oil used in perfumes. It is often referred to as ‘True Lavender’. English lavender is the hardiest of all lavenders, it tolerates cold winters fairly well and while it grows best with full sun exposure, it can also do well with partial sun exposure, but it does not generally produce impressive results in the shade. The plants are smaller, slower growing and more compact, always growing to less than a metre. Bloom is early in the summer with deep purple barrel shaped flower heads on very stiff stems. Many plants bloom again in Autumn. Should be pruned hard in Spring or Autumn.
From a culinary perspective, English lavender can be used for all recipes’ that call for Lavender flowers or foliage. The delicate flavor of the blossoms is a great addition to ice cream, sorbets & baked desserts.
French Lavender (Lavandula Dentata): French lavender is a sprawling, soft, green-grey bush with longer softer leaves than English lavender. The flowers are bluish purple on long stems and can be borne in both winter and summer so that the bush can appear to flower constantly. While still sweetly scented, French lavender hasn’t the powerful fragrance of English lavender, instead it has a strong rosemary-like scent. French lavender blooms for a longer period of the year than English lavender given enough light and warmth, however, it is not as hardy as English lavender and doesn’t like prolonged cold winters.