Lavender (lavandula) is the queen of the scented herb garden.  It is the backbone of many of our perfumes, soaps, sachets, and potpourris. The botanical name comes from the Latin word lavare, meaning to wash.  Since the earliest of times, lavender has been used to perfume bath water and burned as incense to cleanse hospitals. You usually picture it in an English garden surround by beautiful roses and flowers, but what about here in our low desert?  No problem!  Lavender likes full sun, light sandy soil, and good drainage.  Dry conditions and low soil fertility yields hardy plants with maximum oils.  So which varieties are recommended for our area? There are four that do well here: English, French, Spike, and Spanish lavender.

 

English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) is the most fragrant and dependable.  It is shrubby and grows to about four feet tall and just as wide. The stems are square and woody at the base.  It has narrow, gray leaves that are about two inches long with smooth edges. Tiny lavender flowers bloom in midsummer.  English lavender is hardy to 0°F. There are several varieties: “Alba” has white flowers, “Hidcote” has deep purple flowers and “Jean Davis” has pink flowers.

 

French lavender (Lavandula dentate) reaches to 24 to 36 inches high and has grey green leaves 1 to 1 ½ inches long with square toothed edges. The flowers are dark lavender in short clusters and blooms nearly year around in mild climates. French lavender is hardy to 15°F and is revered for its grey green color and many flowers.

 

Spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) grows to two feet tall.  It has broader leaves and its flowers are narrower and in a tighter formation than the other lavenders. Spike lavender is hardy to 0°F and yields more oils than the above lavenders, but has poorer quality.

 

Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has a dense compact growing habit.  It grows to about 18-36 inches high. The leaves are gray and dark purple flowers appear in early spring on tight short spikes.  Spanish lavender is hardy to 0°F.

 

Lavender can be grown from seed, but germination is slow. The easiest way to plant it is from small plants or from cuttings.  Once lavender is planted, there is not too much that you will need to do. If the plant becomes leggy (long and straggly stems), you can cut it back after flowering.  Shearing or removing faded flowers will promote growth. Harvesting of the flowers is best done when they are showing color, but aren’t fully opened.  It is recommended to pick the stalks in midday when the oils are the most concentrated.

 

Dottie’s Notes: I found that planting lavender in my vegetable garden and herb garden helped bring in bees for pollination. It also allowed my garden area to have color during our hot summer months when the rest of the garden is going dormant.  Remember, once it is planted, lavender is here to stay… plant it where it will not interfere with your planting area as it grows.