Lavender

This morning I harvested my first successful crop of lavender flowers. The large, fragrant bundle hangs in the guest bedroom allowing visitors a soothing restful night of pleasant dreams. 

The bundle came from a three-year-old shrub, the first to survive more than two springs in my garden after many years of frustrating attempts. 

Unfortunately, I suspect it’s more the result of our current drought rather than my gardening skills.

The lavenders (Lavandula ssp.) are a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family,  native to the Mediterranean region south to tropical Africa and to the southeast regions of India. The genus includes annuals, herbaceous plants, and small shrubs. Because lavender cross-pollinates easily, however, there are countless variations within the species.

Historians found lavender in use since the days of the Roman Empire. Its scented flowers have been gathered for their healing and soothing properties as well as for use as a culinary herb. 

Queen Elizabeth I of England used lavender tea for treatment of severe migraine headaches, and Cleopatra was known to favor lavender in her bath. 

Sweet and savory, the delicate scent of lavender enlivens food dishes and is found in the classic herbes de Provence mixture.

Growing lavender in this part of Texas can be a challenge. 

The plants require sandy or rocky soil with a pH of 7.0. The limestone soil of west Ellis County is ideal for growing lavender while those of us with sticky black clay must amend. 

For heavy clay amend with well decomposed organic matter. Plant on mounds or hillsides to increase drainage. 

While lavender is considered drought tolerant when mature, new plants need regular watering until they are established. Overhead watering can promote fungal disease, and too much mulch will cause water retention and root rot. Ideally, mulch with sand, stone or white rocks. Plant lavender in full sun.

Plants are ready for harvest when the bottom third of the flower head is blooming. 

After the sun has dried the morning dew from the plant clip the stems down close to the foliage using sharp shears. 

Lavender stays fresh for about three days in water which should be changed daily. 

Each year after flowering, cut back the plant by one-third to one-half. Always prune or harvest plants with sterilized tools.

English lavender, known as L. angustifolia and L. x intermedia ‘Provence’ tolerate extremes of hot dry summers and wet springs as long as the roots don’t stay wet for more than a few days. 

Chefs tend to prefer angustifolia and Provence because of their lower camphor content. 

Good choices for the culinary garden are Munstead and Hidcote. 

Varieties with more robust scents are L. x intermedia such as Grosso.

Lavender Sugar: Place four or five dried lavender stems in a quart jar. Add 2 cups sugar, seal and set aside for a few weeks. The sugar can be added to drinks, fruit or any recipe calling for granulated sugar.

 

For more information on growing onions, visit http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/publications/onion/oniongro.html.