Lovely lavender’s calm, purple haze
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.