Lavenders for All Seasons

The herb of the year: Lavender

| April/May 1999

  • Lavenders in rows can be easily studied by growers, but for landscaping, try them in groups.
    Text and Photography by Andy Van Hevelingen
  • Tender Lavandula maroccana’s electric-blue flowers light up a winter greenhouse.
  • When purchasing L. ­angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, inquire if the plants are seed-grown or vegetatively propagated; those grown from seed may not be ­uniform.
  • Small, fragrant L. ­angustifolia ‘England’ can find a home in many gardens.
  • L. stoechas subsp. ­pedunculata displays its bright “rabbit ears,” or bracts.
  • With its long stems and strong fragrance, the lavandin ‘Grosso’ makes fine lavender wands.
  • L. angustifolia ‘Sarah’ keeps both color and shape during drying.
  • Lavenders in rows can be easily studied by growers, but for landscaping, try them in groups.
  • Lavenders in rows can be easily studied by growers, but for landscaping, try them in groups.

Lavender is probably the herb most admired for fragrance. Some people grow it for potpourri and dried or fresh bouquets. Some cook with lavender. A friend of mine finds the scent of lavender essential oil so soothing that he places a drop on his moustache every day to help relieve job stress.

My first introduction to lavender came thirty years ago when I watched my herb friend and mentor, Emma Wakefield, weave a lavender wand. First she tied together a small handful of long fresh lavender stems, then attached a satin ribbon, turned the bundle upside down, and spread the stems into an umbrella shape. Weaving the ribbon through the lavender stems, she enclosed the flowers in a gentle oval. She ended with a barbershop spiral of ribbon and finished it off with a bow. Voilà! A lavender wand to keep moths from the linen closet or freshen the air in my car!

I tried to follow Emma’s example, but an hour later, my fifty flower stalks had come to resemble a tiny baseball bat and my fingers hurt. Emma lent me a book on this and other lavender crafts so that I could practice at home. I soon realized that only the long-stemmed lavenders such as L. ¥intermedia would work. Today, there are many cultivars of this variety to choose from.

The best lavenders for ­fragrance and flower

For refined floral fragrance, English lavender (L. angustifolia) excels. Perfumers prize its oil and aromatherapists use it for its healing qualities. This is the species that old herb books identify as L. vera, L. officinalis, or “true” lavender.

Spanish lavender (L. stoechas var. stoechas), also known as common sticadore, stickadove, or nardo, may have been the first lavender species to be used therapeutically. As early as a.d. 60, it scented England’s Roman baths with its strong camphoraceous smell reminiscent of rosemary. Its oil is seldom used in commerce today.

When French lavender growers crossed English lavender with the longer-stemmed spike lavender (L. latifolia), the resulting sterile hybrids (L. ¥intermedia) were larger than both parents and produced more oil at a lower cost. Known as lavandins, they now dominate the world’s lavender oil industry. During 1998, the lavandin cultivar ‘Grosso’ accounted for more than 70 percent of France’s lavender oil market. Unfortunately, lavandin oil has a much sharper scent than the oil of its English lavender parent; most of it ends up in cosmetic products and various washing agents.

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