Lovely laven­der’s calm, pur­ple haze

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

LAVEN­DER, a mag­net for bees and other in­sects, is the queen of herbs and it is loved for its beauty, fra­grance and sense of well-being that it im­parts.

If you plant just one herb, it should be laven­der, for no other herb com­bines so many qual­i­ties in one plant. Its beauty and fra­grance are self-ev­i­dent, it is a sig­nif­i­cant heal­ing and tonic herb, it has a myr­iad culi­nary, beauty and house­hold uses and can play a role as a pest-re­pelling plant in the gar­den. Ac­cord­ing to an­cient records, you can even smoke it.

For all that, laven­der is the one herb that is least likely to be found in the herb gar­den. In­stead, it is usu­ally grown with roses, clipped into hedges, used to line path­ways or fill con­tain­ers and can also act as a sil­very grey fo­liage plant in the gar­den. As a land­scape plant, it is one of the best and, when in flower, it is breath­tak­ing. Gar­den­ers travel half­way around the world to view the laven­der fields of France and Bri­tain. Even in a do­mes­tic gar­den, a laven­der bush in full flower stands out as a fea­ture.

This Mediter­ranean herb likes cool, wet win­ters and hot, dry sum­mers, mak­ing it ideal for Western Cape gar­dens. That doesn’t mean it can’t grow suc­cess­fully else­where, in hot, wet, sum­mer-rain­fall ar­eas.

Plant laven­der in a sunny po­si­tion where it re­ceives at least full morn­ing or af­ter­noon sun. Make sure the soil drains well, ad­ding plenty of com­post and other or­gan­ics. If you have clay soil, grow laven­der in pots. Space plants well enough apart so that there is ad­e­quate air move­ment, which pre­vents fun­gal dis­ease. For in­for­mal plant­ing, space bushes 45cm to 90cm apart. For hedg­ing, plant up to 60cm apart.

Wa­ter well to es­tab­lish and then re­duce wa­ter­ing. If pos­si­ble, wa­ter at root level as this pre­vents the hot, wet hu­mid con­di­tions that laven­der dis­likes.

Pre­vent laven­der from get­ting woody by prun­ing af­ter flow­er­ing. This can add to a bush’s longevity, although most laven­ders need re­plac­ing af­ter three years, es­pe­cially in sum­mer rain­fall ar­eas.

Af­ter flow­er­ing, cut back by two thirds. Only cut into semi-hard­wood (green stems) but not into old, brown wood. Al­ways make sure that there are small shoots be­low the cut. Laven­ders do not re­gen­er­ate from old wood.

La­van­dula stoechas flow­ers mainly in spring. Prune in Novem­ber af­ter flow­er­ing.

La­van­dula den­tata (grey and green) should be pruned in sum­mer when flow­er­ing slows down due to the heat.

La­van­dula x in­ter­me­dia flow­ers con­tin­u­ally and some grow very large. Trim two to three times a year, but don’t cut back by more than a third.

La­van­dula x al­lardii (“African Pride”) and La­van­dula al­lardii are hedg­ing laven­ders that can pruned at any time as they do not flower.

La­van­dula pin­nata, La­van­dula ca­narien­sis and La­van­dula mul­ti­fida (fern-leaf laven­der) can be cut right down af­ter flow­er­ing in spring.

Good va­ri­eties for con­tain­ers are the La­van­dula den­tata va­ri­eties and even the La­van­dula in­ter­me­dia and La­van­dula al­lardii va­ri­eties, although they need big­ger con­tain­ers of at least 60cm in di­am­e­ter. Place pots in a po­si­tion that re­ceives morn­ing or af­ter­noon sun. Wa­ter pots ev­ery day in very hot, dry and windy con­di­tions. Fer­tilise two to three times dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son with a liq­uid fer­tiliser or a light gran­u­lar fer­tiliser.

Fern-leaf laven­ders are quite un­like con­ven­tional laven­der. Their fern-like fo­liage pro­duces slen­der spikes tipped with del­i­cate sprays of flow­ers, and their wild, airy feel suits cot­tage-style gar­dens. They tol­er­ate more shade and more wa­ter than other laven­ders, although they still like welldrained soil.

Laven­der has been used medic­i­nally for cen­turies. Its anti-spas­modic, an­ti­sep­tic and anti-bac­te­rial prop­er­ties make it an ex­cel­lent first-aid herb for treat­ing cuts, burns, stings, bruises, eczema, mus­cle cramps and pains.

German nun Hilde­gard of Bin­gen (1098-1179) used laven­der wa­ter to treat mi­graines.

Laven­der is best known as an anti-stress herb. Its calm­ing ac­tion acts as an anti- de­pres­sant and re­lieves ner­vous ten­sion, in­som­nia, and even pho­bias. By stim­u­lat­ing blood flow, it helps re­duce headaches and mi­graines. Laven­der’s sooth­ing ef­fect also works on the di­ges­tive sys­tem, re­liev­ing colic, wind and bloat­ing. For in­ter­nal use, drink laven­der tea or make a tinc­ture and sip small amounts two to three times a day. For ex­ter­nal use, ap­ply laven­der as a poul­tice or make a top­i­cal cream, us­ing a strong in­fu­sion in aque­ous cream. The best rem­edy is to in­hale its strong fra­grance.

To per­fume a room, put a bowl of fresh laven­der sprigs on a win­dowsill in the sun.

To bring life to your gar­den, visit www.lifeis­agar­den.co.za.

Laven­der is best known as an anti-stress herb act­ing as a cal­ma­tive.

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