Plant of the Sea­son - Laven­der

This England - - News -

A flow­er­ing plant of the mint fam­ily, laven­der is justly fa­mous for its beauty, scent and medic­i­nal qual­i­ties. It has been pop­u­lar through­out the world for thou­sands of years and was used by the an­cient Egyp­tians and the Ro­mans. The name re­put­edly comes from the Latin la­vere mean­ing to wash al­though some sources claim that it is the Latin li­v­ere mean­ing blueish.

How­ever, laven­der isn’t al­ways blue — it can be pink, vi­o­let, deep pur­ple or white. It also comes in dif­fer­ent sizes from large plants of up to 3ft such as Laven­dula in­ter­me­dia ‘Grosso’ to tiny rock­ery plants like L. an­gus­ti­fo­lia ‘Nana Alba’. The tra­di­tional English laven­der ( L. an­gus­ti­fo­lia) is a strong com­pact plant that will with­stand low tem­per­a­tures. How­ever the tufty-eared French laven­der ( L. stoechas) is not so frost hardy.

Laven­der will tol­er­ate most soil con­di­tions but it doesn’t like to get its roots too wet so in­cor­po­rate plenty of drainage ma­te­rial if your soil is clay. Plants do best in full sun and they should be clipped af­ter flow­er­ing to keep the shape com­pact. Just cut back the new sea­son’s growth as the laven­der doesn’t like having its old wood cut. Some books ad­vo­cate re­plac­ing the plants ev­ery five years or so but I’ve had laven­der in my pre­vi­ous gar­den that was sev­eral decades old and still go­ing strong. You can eas­ily add to your laven­der stock by tak­ing semi-ripe or hard­wood cut­tings.

The un­mis­take­able per­fume of laven­der is used in many ways — to scent soaps, lo­tions, cos­met­ics and room sprays. Sa­chets of dried flow­ers have long been pop­u­lar for plac­ing with stored sheets and clothes, as well as putting in pil­lows to aid sleep and re­lax­ation. Dried laven­der is also used in bak­ing — laven­der scones and short­bread are de­li­cious. The dis­tilled oil of laven­der is widely avail­able and a few drops are said to soothe headaches, in­sect bites and sun­burn, help cuts to heal and relieve coughs. The oil should al­ways be used ac­cord­ing to the in­struc­tions on the la­bel and never taken in­ter­nally.

It is not sur­pris­ing that laven­der is one of England’s best loved plants and one that can be found in gar­dens of all types. It is a royal favourite too — in fact Queen Vic­to­ria loved laven­der so much that she ap­pointed Sarah Sprules, who had a nurs­ery in Walling­ton, Sut­ton, as “Pur­veyor of Laven­der Essence to the Queen”.

be­ing dis­charged into rivers il­le­gally. It is not easy to catch a large num­ber of oiled swans and wash them to re­move any con­tam­i­na­tion caused by this kind of pol­lu­tion.”

Dis­carded fish­ing tackle is an­other ma­jor cul­prit, al­though the lead split-shot weights that were once at­tached to fish­ing lines are now il­le­gal. Be­fore they were banned in the 1980s swan num­bers on the Thames di­min­ished sharply as they died of lead poi­son­ing.

Heavy river traf­fic is an­other fac­tor in the di­min­ish­ing num­bers of swans. Some­times ac­ci­dents can be hard to avoid and we must re­mem­ber that ev­ery­one wishes to use the river: it is a mas­sive leisure at­trac­tion for many peo­ple in­clud­ing row­ers, fish­er­men, sailors, boaters etc.

The Queen vis­ited Swan Up­ping a few years ago. Her party trav­elled on a steamer called Alaska in the area from Bovney Lock to Oak­ley Court Ho­tel. She spoke to sev­eral chil­dren and pre­sented a cer­tifi­cate to two of the schools for the projects they had com­pleted on river con­ser­va­tion.

“We were proud and hon­oured to be a part of that day. The Swan Up­pers are good oars­men and many of them are wa­ter­men or lighter­men work­ing on the Thames so they can han­dle a boat with ex­per­tise. Some of them have been Olympic oars­men.

“When they are ap­pointed they are ad­vised by Pro­fes­sor Per­rins how to han­dle swans, lift them out of the wa­ter and hold them. They also go to one of the swan res­cue or­gan­i­sa­tions to be taught how to tie the swans’ legs and wings and also check for fish­ing-tackle in­juries.

“The Vint­ners and Dy­ers place a small stain­less steel ring on their cygnets and this is in­scribed with a num­ber that en­ables that bird to be traced. Crown birds are left un­marked. How­ever, all swans carry what is known as a British Trust for Or­nithol­ogy ring (BTO). This has noth­ing to do with own­er­ship but is placed on the leg for trace­abil­ity and to en­able data to be kept on record about each swan.

“We have a team of tra­di­tional sup­port boats that carry our gear, tow our skiffs oc­ca­sion­ally, and do a won­der­ful job for us on our jour­ney to Abing­don. Many peo­ple come to the locks and watch us travel through and they all wish to see a swan catch which is not easy for us be­cause you never know where the next swan catch will be.

“The schools con­tact us when they’re in­tend­ing to send a party of chil­dren. We can ar­range with them where we are go­ing to stop and I find my­self pray­ing we’ll have a swan catch there. If we don’t have a swan catch at the ren­dezvous point with the school­child­ren I will usu­ally ar­range for one of the swan res­cue or­gan­i­sa­tions to meet us with, for ex­am­ple, two or­phaned cygnets to show the young­sters. We have many or­phaned cygnets at that time of year. Some have been washed over the weirs and lost their par­ents.”

David Bar­ber’s con­tri­bu­tion to river life has re­cently been recog­nised in a por­trait by the well-known in­ter­na­tional artist Su­san Ed­wards from the Cotswolds who com­pleted sev­eral can­vases. “It was a lovely por­trait and she did a grand job,” he says. The artist told us: “There’s noth­ing in the world as lovely as an English sum­mer’s day on the Thames with the sun­light on the wa­ter, and the mag­nif­i­cent, colour­ful and his­toric pageant of the Swan Up­pers pro­gress­ing up­river. I wanted to cap­ture the ex­cite­ment as it hap­pened, and took the large can­vas down to the river at Son­ning to paint en plein air, just like the Im­pres­sion­ists did. Luck­ily there was very lit­tle wind, so my can­vas didn’t take off and the clouds drifted gen­tly by. I like to think you can al­most hear the oars dip­ping into the wa­ter when you look at the paint­ing.”

Su­san Ed­wards can be con­tacted at paintin­galive@live.co.uk

The Swan Up­pers pre­pare to lift the birds from the wa­ter.

One of the Crown boats and a por­trait of David Bar­ber by Su­san Ed­wards (be­low, with an­other of her paint­ings).

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