With laven­der in full bloom, the gar­den be­comes a de­light for the senses, says Sue Bradley

Living France - - Contents -

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.

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