Lavender herb is a popular addition to gardens. The aromatic flower spikes are excellent in dried flower arrangements or potpourri. The plant can also be used to make essential oils and for natural healing. Some people also use the plant in cooking, although this is not common. There are around thirty varieties of lavender. However, the most often used are the English, French and Spanish varieties.
English lavender, botanically known as Lavendula angustifolia, is the type most people picture when they hear the word lavender. The plant has purplish flowers and grows to two or three feet. Their fragrance is strong, which is why this type is the one most commonly used for aromatherapy.
There are sub-varieties of English lavender. These tend to be smaller in size, work well as edging and come in other colors than the traditional lavender. Varieties include Melissa, which has pink flowers; Baby Blue, which has purple flowers; Nana Alba, which has white flowers; and Martha Roderick, which has bluish-lavender flowers.
French lavender, or Lavendula dententa, is a milder variety of lavender. It has a more subdued fragrance than its English cousin. Flowers are not quite as vibrant. This type is typically used more for decorative appearance rather than aromatic appeal. This plant also grows up to three feet in height. Leaves are serrated.
The flower many gardeners mistakenly assume is French lavender is actually Spanish lavender. Botanically known as Lavendula stoechus, the plant grows between eighteen inches and two feet in height. Petals are upright and similar in appearance to a pine cone. In Spring, deep purple flowers appear. Bees tend to like this type, which grows best in humid areas.
Of these three main types, English lavender tends to be the hardiest. It can winter outdoors provided it has shelter and a layer of mulching to protect it. The French and Spanish varieties need more warmth and should be moved indoors. If you do not bring them in, you will have to replace the plants each year.
When purchasing lavender commercially, you may notice it labeled as true lavender, spike lavender or lavandin. True lavender has barrel-shaped flowers, short and narrow leaves and crooked stems. It is commonly used for aromatherapy. Spike lavender, like the name implies, grows more and spikes. This type yields the highest amounts of essential oils. Lavandin, sometimes called Dutch lavender, is a hybrid of true and spike lavenders. It has vibrantly colored flowers and is often used as part of decorative accents or potpourris.
While lavender can be grown from seed, it is difficult. Most gardeners start their plants from cuttings or root divisions. They need moist, well-drained soil to flourish. Provide protection from the sun for the first year before moving to the garden. To encourage the plant to bush out, cut flower shoots off the first year in the garden. After the first year, the plant just requires dead-heading of old flowers to keep it going strong. For the strongest aroma, harvest at the end of summer on a hot, dry day.
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