The Healing Garden: Growing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)

by Charlotte Walker
The Healing Garden: Growing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)

For centuries we have been studying, cultivating and appreciating the aromatic, medicinal and culinary benefits of Lavender.

Famous for its ability to invoke feelings of serenity and calmness, this beautiful herb is a treasure to behold.  I daresay, every garden and gardener alike would benefit from a bit of lavender therapy in their garden.

Recently I wrote about our history with lavender and the tremendous health benefits this gorgeous aromatic plant provides.  As we carry on through a journey of getting to know lavender, this time we’ll explore some of the varieties, and touch on various aspects of growing lavender in your garden. If you’d like to go back and read the history ‘For the love of lavender (Lavendula Officinalis)‘ please do!

The botanical name for lavender is Lavendula Officinalis. Lavender is also known as Lavendel, Lavandula angustifolia. Part of the Lamiaceae family commonly known as the mint (deadnettle) family which includes other herbs, such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano and thyme!

Types of Lavender

There are more than 450 named lavender varieties originating from a subset of species. You’ll find lavender in vivid hues of indigo, purple and red to more delicate shades of pinks & lilacs or in rare cases white. Each type has different attributes, climate and soil preferences. Some will thrive in your garden; others will not.

The following are two hardy species of Lavender for you to consider, you’ll find many named varieties within each of these species, each with their attributes.

Common Lavender or English  (Lavandula Angustifolia) is quite a diverse species and the cold hardiest (typically zone 5-9). It offers a sweet scent, showy flowers, and earlier blooming.  Lavandula Angustifolia is versatile, regarded for both culinary and aromatic purposes.

Some varieties include: Betty’s Blue, Blue Rive, Bowless Early, Buena Vista, Dwarf Blue, Folgate, Hidcote, Munstead

French lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia) is a hybrid of Lavender Angustifolia. It has a  medicinal scent due to its high camphor content. They are the most widely distilled varieties of lavender producing up to 5x more oils that Common Lavender.

Some varieties include: Tuscan Blue, Vera, Silver Edge, Silver Leaf, Sussex, Grosso, Hidcote Giant, Provence

Humid Climate varieties include names like Grosso, Provence, Otto Quast, Ana Luisa

Of course, there are many other species, subspecies, and varieties to learn about.

You’ll find some species of lavender rated for zones 8-10 or 9-11, only suitable in the hottest, dryest climates. Some hybrids tolerate drought, and just too many options to list for you here.  One thing for sure, with so much selection, there’s no surprise that we love to grow Lavender throughout the world.

The air was fragrant with a thousand trodden aromatic herbs, with fields of lavender, and with the brightest roses blushing in tufts all over the meadows. ~ William C. Bryant

Lavender is easygoing, drought tolerant and loves the sunshine

Lavender is not a very demanding plant, once you get it established and not many pests bother it. It’s not just humans that adore lavender; our insect friends also find it quite alluring. The plant’s intoxicating nectar-rich flowers attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects to the garden. On the flip side, it seems to repel specific pesky bugs like mosquitoes which is another reason to anoint your skin with it.

Buying Plants

Take the time to do research and choose varieties best suited for your growing conditions, often this will boil down to what you can find locally.

The best plants for your garden are those that have survived the worst of what your climate can unleash forcing them to adapt and thrive. If possible source your lavender from a local nursery or gardener. These plants have been acclimated to your area and will provide a higher degree of success than “big box” garden center “origin unknown” imports. You are also likely to obtain friendly and immensely useful growing advice through local purchases.

Lavender can cross-pollinate with other members of the lavender species and can self-seed. The downside to taking cuttings or seeds from a  garden is that you might not be obtaining a true variety. If you intend on marketing or selling lavender, this is valuable to note.

The Healing Garden: Growing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)

A Few Tips on Growing Lavender

High and Dry – High and dry are the key things to remember when choosing a location to plant lavender. You can even use gravel as mulch to assist in keeping the plants dry. This is one plant where you might want to avoid the use of wood chips and mulch.

Drainage – Good drainage is essential when growing lavender. It does not like wet feet nor does it like to be watered overhead.

Care  – When you first plant lavender, it will need to be watered (water the soil, not overhead) to help it become established. Snip off any flowers the first year so that the plant focuses on developing the root system and leaves. We will prepare the hole adding a bit of compost. Once established, lavender should not need a lot of attention. In the spring we side dress the bed with a bit of compost, and after that, we only water the garden periodically during extreme drought.

Pruning – In the fall you’ll want to prune the lavender giving it a good haircut will encourage it to take a nice shape. If left to its own devices it can grow a bit erratic. Leave three inches of green growth on the plant. You should avoid cutting into the woody stem (unless you are taking cuttings to propagate more plants).

Our Lavender Garden: Personal Notes

I am devoted to growing lavender. Although  I would love to grow every variety of lavender and wade through fields of it every day, only a few seem to do well in our climate, so I’ve had to rewind my expectations a bit. We’ve had to work at growing our lavender because we have clay soil, poor drainage, humidity, and we are a little on the cold side (hardiness zone 4).  Soil amendments, the good fortune of the previous owner choosing a spot that acts as a microclimate and pure luck have all contributed to our success.

Propagating Lavender from Cuttings

For best results grow lavender from cuttings. You can take cuttings from both the soft green “new” growth or the older woody stems. Rooting lavender cuttings is quite simple, there are some ways to do this, but I’ll link to the method that we’ve used most successfully. You’ll need a sharp knife, rooting hormone, containers, and rooting soil mix (seed starting mix). You’ll want to take the cuttings in early spring as the plant emerges from dormancy or in fall just before the first frost.

How to propagate lavender from cuttings: a step-by-step guide

The Healing Garden: Growing Lavender (Lavendula officinalis)

Find Lavender Products at our Shop

We sell a variety of lavender products in our shop exclusively available at the Homesteader’s Co-op, an International Marketplace for Sustainable, Handmade Goods. You can find our lavender sachets, and dream pillows and new products will be available in the fall of 2019 including lavender wands, sachets, vinegar, creams and much more!

Lavender Resources

My favorite book and resource for lavender are The Lavender Lover’s Handbook. It is quite comprehensive and packed full of photographs, recipes, craft ideas, varieties, history, growing guides and more.

Charts and more information about hardiness zones

How to propagate lavender from cuttings: a step-by-step guide

Cooking with Flowers

 

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