Lavender is an aromatic herb grown for centuries and appreciated for its fragrant, purplish blue flowers. These small, drought-tolerant shrubs take full sun to partial shade outdoors. They can take moderate water, but can also survive in low water gardens once established (usually after a year). The flowers bloom on long, square-shaped stalks and buds can be up to two inches long.
Lavender leaves are also strongly fragrant and can be sticky with essential oils. The flowers are great in fresh bouquets. They can also be used for flavoring in salads or vinegars. Dried bouquets and flowers are used in crafts and as home decor.
Mature lavender plants have narrow green or gray green needle shaped leaves on woody branches. They are great in rock gardens, dry herb gardens or as low, informal hedges. They add structure to the landscape with their evergreen leaves and are a good height for the middle of the flower bed. Mix lavender shrubs in with other drought tolerant herbs like rosemary and sage to enjoy their fragrance on hot summer nights.
Two of the more popular home garden forms are French lavender (Lavandula dentata) and English lavender (lavandula angustifolia, l. officinalis). French lavender reaches 3 to 4 tall and 4 to 6 feet wide and is more drought tolerant with more compact flowers. English Lavender plants are smaller, reaching only about 2 feet high and wide. The English variety is known to be shorter-lived (3 to 5 years), but is considered to have a more complex fragrance.
After the second year or so, lavenders can develop a dry thatch, or collection of dry leaves on the inside of the shrub. The plant can also become leggy, meaning it has long spindly branches. This means it is time to prune back your plants. Fall is usually the best time to do this, especially in mild winter areas. Trim the branches way back; to about 10 inches long. The next spring your lavender will grow back thick and fresh.
The intoxicating scent of lavender has been used in love potions, perfumes and soaps for centuries. It is also credited with the ability to promote chastity. It has been worn to elevate moods and used in aromatherapy to cure nervous depression. In Victorian times a gift of lavender flowers could mean either loyalty or mistrust. Modern science has discovered that lavender oil has antispasmodic, antidepressant and carminative properties.
Lavender is a great insect and moth repellent. In the past it was used as a 'strewing herb' in hospitals and homes to disinfect and clear the air. Dried lavender blossoms make excellent potpourri and can be tied up in cotton fabric before being tucked into drawers or linen closets. The branches are also highly fragrant and can be layered into woodpiles to keep out bugs.
Lavender plants are another beautiful addition to any water-wise garden and provide fragrant flowers for the home almost all year.