With lavender in full bloom, the garden becomes a delight for the senses, says Sue Bradley
Sue Bradley reveals what to do in the garden
August is the month to enjoy the smells as well as the sights of the garden, and when it comes to summer fragrance there are few plants to rival lavender. Provence is renowned as being the region to experience the visual and olfactory pleasure of fields of this blueflowered herb, which has been prized for its medicinal qualities and perfume since ancient times.
However, it’s not essential for lovers of lavender to travel all the way to southeast France to enjoy this drought-resistant and insect-friendly plant, the flowers of which can be used in the kitchen and turned into potpourri or scented sachets to hang with clothes.
The key thing to remember about lavender is that it likes a sunny position and hates getting its roots wet: bring the sun-baked hillsides of Provence to mind and you won’t go far wrong.
Ideally soil should be chalky or gravelly and not overly fertile, although it is possible to grow lavender on clay as long as it’s mixed with grit and formed into a mound to increase drainage. Most types of lavender prefer alkaline soils, although cultivars of Lavandula X intermedia, known in France as lavandin, tend to be more tolerant of acidic conditions.
When choosing plants, it’s important to pay heed to winter temperatures where you live: ‘English’ lavender Lavandula augustifolia is a better choice for colder northerly areas and is prized for producing the highest quality oil. Cultivars of these species tend to be more compact and have shorter flower spikes.
Lavandin is less hardy but is popular among commercial growers in the south of France due to its high yields of oils.
Another species requiring a more sheltered but sunny site is the so-called ‘French’ lavender Lavandula stoechas, which is well known for its vertical bracts that stick up like Winston Churchill’s ‘V for Victory’ gesture.
Plant lavender in the garden in late spring when the ground is warming up and once established it will need little care other than a judicious pruning after flowering to keep it compact.
While inhaling the rich perfume of lavender is an enjoyable part of being in the garden during August, it’s important to take a little time to attend to jobs such as watering, feeding and deadheading to ensure that plants are encouraged to flower as long as possible.
And if this is the month for heading off on a holiday, make sure friends or family are on hand to keep plants going while you’re away.
In the vegetable garden it’s the time of year when crops are in abundance, with courgette, tomato, sweetcorn, beans, peas and early carrots all ready to harvest.
Meanwhile, make the most of opportunities to increase the fertility of bare patches of soil by sowing ‘green manures’, such as Phacelia tanacetifolia or buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). These can be dug in later in the autumn or left to overwinter to protect the soil structure and provide a rich source of nutrients in spring.
Above all, allow time to enjoy the garden during what is usually the warmest time of the year.