What is lavender? 6 reasons to love this aromatic subshrub

What is lavender? 6 reasons to love this aromatic subshrub

Of all the scented, colourful and varied aromatic plants that you might choose to place in a sunny garden, Lavender is just about tops for popularity. It's small enough to squeeze into a courtyard, a balcony and even a window box. It will give you far more value than just about any other plant because it can be enjoyed in at least six different ways...

Lavender in full bloom

  • Firstly, the foliage smells wonderfully aromatic and of course the flowers have scent that has been used by us for centuries.

  • Secondly, the blooms attract beneficial garden insects including bees, butterflies and other pollinators that will also help in the kitchen garden.Lavender forms natural mounded shapes

  • Third on the list of desirable features is the fact that it looks so good. This plant is naturally shaped in a rounded mound. Some people even trim the plant and thereby prevent it from flowering so that it maintains this pleasing form.

  • Fourth: the fact that lavender is drought-tolerant, once established. It's easy to grow provided ithe site isn't waterlogged. What's more, rabbits and deer don't like to eat it. This is a great bonus in a country garden.

  • Then we come to health. The plant is often used in herbal preparations and its scent can safely be added to various potions and lotions. What's more, you can eat the flowers in moderation too. 

Lavender can be used in soap

  • Lastly, but maybe most importantly, this plant is a medicinal marvel. Lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and can help to heal minor burns and to cleanse minor wounds. It repels insects that enjoy biting humans and can therefore be a great plant to position around the eating table. What's more, lavender can form a treatment for anxiety, depression and for those who have difficulty sleeping.

Different lavender varieties

Feeling confused about all the different types of lavender varieties? There are many families of lavender and many different cultivars within the families. If you plant wisely, you can have lavender in flower all summer long. Most of them will also give you a second flowering if you trim them after their first display. Here's a simple breakdown of the lavender that is most commonly available:

English lavender

Most people agree that English lavender is just about the best for flower use. Lavandula angustifolia (formerly L. officinalis) and its multitude of cultivars has given us many different colours and heights, all sharing the most delectable scent. It has a lovely, bushy shape with silvery green leaves and can grow up to one metre high.

English lavender with lady

Lavandula 'Hidcote' is a form of L. angustifolia which is loved particularly for its deep purple flowers which contrast so well with the grey foliage. It's a smaller plant too, topping out at about 60cm, and some say that the flowers are not so scented.

Butterfly on lavender

Meanwhile, L 'Munstead'is a smaller variety still, reaching around 45cm and having beautiful blue flowers with a wonderful scent. This compact plant is named after Gertrude Jekyll's garden at Munstead Wood and it makes a great edging plant for paths and is good in pots too.

Lavender fieldsFrench and Spanish Lavender

‍The Lavender stoechas, or 'tufted' varieties are often known as French or Spanish plants and they are less hardy than English lavender, L. angustifolia. They can live for five years or so, but it's more important to take cuttings so that you can enjoy them indefinitely. Always give them a gentle trim after flowering but be careful not to cut back into old wood. This is likely to kill the plant. As for most lavenders, they don't enjoy waterlogged soil. In really cold areas they might also need some winter protection.

French Lavender has a distinctive little topknot. It's unmistakable for its style. If only we could get hummingbirds to visit in the UK too!

French style lavender with hummingbird

There are around 25 different species of Lavandula in cultivation and the flower colours are ever-expanding as our love for this little plant grows.  they can have blue, purple, pink or white flowers. Hardiest are English and Dutch varieties. The Dutch lavender is Lavandula x intermedia, including the popular L. 'Grosso', which has aromatic foliage and violet flowers in summer. 

The lavender harvest

Harvesting of flowers can take place between June and September and generally the earlier, the better. Trimming early helps the plant to maintain a good shape and a lavender plant should easily last for around 10 years if it is regularly pruned, so you are doing it a favour. Just make sure you leave some green growth on the main plant as it won't generally re-grow if you cut into old woody stems. Cut flowers on a dry morning. Draw into a bundle, tie, then hang them up to dry for about a week.

How and where to use lavender

Lavender in oil

The versatile flowers have so many uses. Here are six simple suggestions:

  • Infuse the flower heads in sweet almond, avocado or hemp oil in order to make a healthy and stress-relieving massage oil. It's simple. Just half fill a jar with lavender flowers, then fill the jar to the top with oil. Shake the jar regularly over the course of a few weeks in order to infuse the scent. Then strain, and your oil is ready to use.
  • A bundle of tied lavender together with other aromatic foliage such as Eucalyptus, mint and rosemary, makes a great shower companion. In the humid air it will release scent and make the room smell amazing.
  • Use lavender flowers in cakes and cooking. You can sprinkle some flower seeds on scones with jam. They are edible and impart a wonderful, subtle aroma and taste.
  • Make a lavender wreath to hang on your wall. The smell will waft around your home for ages.
  • Infuse some lavender in water and use it as a linen spray. It will make sheets smell fresh and clean.
  • Dry lavender and pop it into cloth bags to leave in the wardrobe. It keeps moths away.Lavender bags

Perfect Plants Ltd is an on-line supplier of garden plants and has lavender for sale during the season. Take a look to see what's available right now.