The countryside of southern France is legendary for its fields of lavender (Lavandula x intermedia Provence) grown for the perfume industry. In North America, lavender is a shrubby perennial grown for its flowers and fragrance, but it also serves as a landscape item for its beauty and ability to stand heat and drought. In parts of California, is it used in islands of commercial parking lots, which attests to its toughness.
In a formal garden, lavender may be clipped to form a low hedge or an aromatic border along a path. In a rock garden, a single plant or just a few plants may be used to great effect as an accent. And, of course, lavender is a natural choice for any herb garden. The cool, gray-green foliage contrasts nicely with its own flowers, as well as dark green herbs and other plants.
Lavender also grows quite well in containers. In the Deep South, it actually does better in pots, as it benefits from improved drainage and air circulation. While the plants thrive in arid Western climates, they are usually considered annuals in the South.
Soil, Planting, and Care
Set out plants 12 to 18 inches apart in an open area with full sun and good air circulation. Plant lavender in well-drained, slightly alkaline soil with a pH between 6.7 and 7.3. You can add builder’s sand to the soil before planting to increase drainage, which is vital because lavender will not tolerate excessive soil moisture or humidity. To further improve drainage, plant lavender in a raised bed, along a wall, or near the top of a slope. In an herb or perennial bed, ensure good drainage by planting lavender on a small mound. Lavender flowers bloom in summer; you can clip faded blooms to encourage continued blooming throughout the warm season. Prune lightly to promote branching, especially in spring once the plants show new growth.
Sprinkle bone meal or other phosphorus-rich fertilizer around each plant in the fall to make it stronger and more winter hardy. Work the fertilizer into the first inch of soil, or let the rain soak it in.
Remember that lavender needs good drainage and good air circulation. Do not over-water, and allow the soil to dry before watering again. When there is a lot of heat and humidity, fungus can attack the plants, turning the leaves brown. To minimize the chance of having such a problem, mulch with pebbles or sprinkle sand around the base of the plant for faster evaporation. If you cut the blooms, trim in a way that thins the plant a bit, leaving it open for better air circulation.
Harvest and Storage
Harvest lavender stems at any time by cutting them from the plant. However, avoid clipping more than every third stem to keep the plant looking full. Flowers will keep their perfume for months when you harvest just before they are entirely open. To dry flowers, gather a bunch of stems and hang them upside-down in a dark, well-ventilated place to preserve colour and keep the stems from molding.
Fresh flowers may be used in sauces, marinades, and desserts. Handle fragile dried blossoms with care and use them in teas, salts, potpourri, sachets, and crafts.