Simply The Best Herbs-January

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“best among the good plants for hot, sandy soils
are the ever blessed lavender and rosemary,
delicious old garden bushes that one can hardly dissociate.”

Miss Jekyll Home and Garden 1900

 

I am continuing my monthly series, Simply The Best this year with Herbs.  I grow many culinary annual herbs like rosemary, cilantro, dill, basil, parsley and the like.  And I have many perennial herbs throughout different areas of my gardens: sage, thyme, chives, lemon balm, oregano and mint.  I have always been fascinated by herbs and discovered many of my wildflowers are also herbs.  So I wanted to add some more perennial herbs to my zone 5b garden that can be used for medicinal and culinary purposes.  I decided to revamp 2 areas of the back gardens IMG_5373into herb gardens.  One will have herbs that like a moister environment, and one with herbs that prefer drier soil.  As these plans and gardens develop, I will share them with you.

But until those are designed, planted and photographed, I thought I would start with a much loved herb already growing in my garden, lavender.  It grows all over my front gardens and in some other interesting areas where I have pushed the limits of their growing conditions.

Lavender is a real standout in any herb garden.  For me the love begins with the wispy delicate gray green foliage, and moves to the incredible smell the flowers give off when the wind gently blows through them or I brush up against the plant.  On hot days the oils are released more and attract pollinators.  And if that is not enough there are the many uses. But I’ll get to those shortly.

I’ll be linking in with the meme, Dozen for Diana at her new blog, Elephant’s Eye on False Bay.

Lavender can be tricky to grow as it requires full sun, and sandy or loose well drained soil.  I find the hottest spots are the best so I grow mine near stone, brick and the black top of my driveway and the road.  I have never tried to grow lavender from seed as it is slow to germinate, but it can be grown from stem cuttings which might be fun to try.

 

 

Name

The English word lavender is taken from the Old French lavandre, and Latin lavare (to wash).  

IMG_6093The common names used for many of the species are, “English lavender”, “French lavender” and “Spanish lavender”.  “English lavender” usually refers to  L. angustifolia, also known as “Old English Lavender”.  The name “French lavender” refers to  L. dentata, and “Spanish lavender” usually refers to L. stoechas.

 

 

 

About

Lavender or Lavandula is comprised of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. Lavender is native to the Old World, and is found in warm climates especially in the Mediterranean and southern Asia.  Now you know why I grow mine in the hottest spots in my garden.

Lavandula angustifolia (formerly named L. officinalis) or English lavender is the most widely grown species, and what grows in my garden.  It is also the most aromatic and can grow into a 4 x4 foot bush on woody stems.  There are many cultivars that I have that grow white or pink flowers, or are dwarf and barely grow a foot.  Besides L. dentate and L. stoechas there is also Spiked lavender, L. latifolia.  These other lavenders are not hardy to my zone 5b garden.

The whole plant is fragrant, but the flowers have the strongest perfume.  It is best to pick the flower stalks at midday when they show some IMG_5967color but are not fully open.

Of course the color lavender is named for the flower, but some of the flowers are violet or even blue.

Because so many cultivated lavenders are planted worldwide, they sometimes have escaped and are found growing wild where they are considered invasive; for example in parts of Australia and Spain.

Lavender needs very little fertilizer if any because when it grows in less fertile soils it yields more oils.  One thing lavender does need is good air circulation. If you grow them where there is high humidity, like my garden, be careful of root rot due to fungus. Use of gravel mulch is best to prevent the fungus.  Where I have mulched mine with organic materials, I make sure they grow near my brick walkway or the stone of the wall.

 

 

Folklore

The ancient Greeks and Romans originally grew the species L. stoechas.  It was called nardus after the Syrian city of Naarda.

Lavender was one of the herbs used in the biblical Temple.

The Greeks discovered early on that lavender if crushed would release a relaxing scent when burned.

Interestingly, in medieval times powdered lavender was used as a condiment.

 

 

Uses

Not many uses for lavender are found before the Renaissance.  But after this time period, it was said to cure hoarseness, aching joints and calm nerves.

Much of the lavender grown in temperate climates are used either for ornamental plants in the garden or as culinary herbs.  It is also grown commercially IMG_5917for the essential oils.  Essential oil of lavender has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.  But there is one health precaution, since lavender oil can cause allergic reactions. It is recommended that it not be eaten during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

 

Culinary uses

In the 1970s, a herb blend called herbes de Provence was invented and included lavender.  Lavender has more recently become very popular in cooking.  The abundant nectar from the flowers makes a wonderful honey.  Flowers are also candied and used on cakes, or as other food decorations.  You can find lavender sugar, and many lavender flavored  baked goods and desserts; especially delicious with chocolate.  I have even tasted lavender blended with green tea.

 

Medical uses

Lavender oil was used to cleanse hospitals during World War I .

Today lavender oil is one of the most widely used scents in aromatherapy and medicinal infusions. It is believed to soothe insect bites, burns, acne, inflammatory IMG_5596conditions and headaches. With uninfected wounds, lavender honey is said to be best.  Lavender flowers can aid sleep and relaxation when used in flower sachets or an infusion of flowers added to a cup of boiling water. It is even said to repel insects.  I may have to try it.

Lavender has be used to treat different types of cancers, and although it has not been completely proven that it is effective, many studies have shown that lavender has led to stabilization of the disease and reduction of tumors.

 

Commercial uses

Lavender flowers are used in dried flower arrangements, in potpourri and as an herbal filler for sachets. If dried lavender flowers are placed with items of clothing they freshen them and deter moths. Dried lavender flowers have recently gained popularity as wedding confetti. And of course lavender is popular in scented bath products.

 

 

Language of Flowers

Lavender has some lovely meanings:  serenity, grace, calmness.  There is one negative aspect of the plant as it has been said to mean distrust.  This meaning came from the superstition that poisonous snakes live under the plants, and is not associated with the actual flower meaning.

 

 

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“lavender, sweet lavender;
come and buy my lavender,
hide it in your trousseau, lady fair.
Let its lovely fragrance flow
Over your from head to toe,
lightening on your eyes, your cheek, your hair.”

Cumberland Clark Flower Song Book 1929

 

*All lavenders shown here are growing in my garden.

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Next up on the blog:   As February dawns, it will be time for another garden journal post.  Then there will be another Wildflower Tale featuring spiderwort just in time for GBBD.   Spring is getting closer and closer.  Seasonal Celebrations will be here on March 1st before we know it.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my current post now.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2012.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

70 thoughts on “Simply The Best Herbs-January

  1. Thank you for the wonderful post on Lavender. You are so lucky to have so many of them. I didn’t think any would grow in my gardens because I don’t have any dry areas, so I put one in a pot and it’s doing pretty good. Maybe I’ll have to put more in pots and spread them around the garden!

  2. No lack of sun and heat for my lavenders, they are finding it a little too much of a good thing. I have a few hopefully pink lavender volunteers on the gravel path. They will be packed for False Bay ;~)

    My post will go up next Friday 8th and yours will be included as the first to join the February meme. Hope that’s OK? (It will get you a second round of readers for this, as my January post has already been read by all my subscribers)

    • Wonderful Diana. I have shifted most of the herb posts earlier for a while so whatever works for you works for me. I can imagine the lavenders would love your garden. How wonderful to have pink lavender volunteering.

  3. Excellent article Donna. All the lavender I grow was started from seed and I used ‘Munstead’ for its hardiness. Crushed brick and pea gravel is what I use for mulch and I find the plants self seed easily.
    Bundles of dried lavender thrown on a fire gives off a nice scent.
    I think people that have a hard time growing lavender don’t understand the growing conditions it likes.
    I bake with lavender buds too.
    Judith

    • Judith how lovely to grow lavender from seed. I have never tried it. I can only imagine what it is like all over your gardens. The love the idea of throwing a bundle on a fire or baked goods with lavender. I have never baked with lavender although I have many recipes I want to try.

  4. Hi Donna! Nice pictures, I nearly smell the scent! I love lavender although I only grow three bushes in the gravel garden. My soil is heavy clay and they don’t like it. In the south of italy l. Stoechas grows as a native and it’s wonderful, in the north it’s not fully hardy though.

  5. Nice post Donna. I’ve been able to grow (lavender and rosemary) but it quickly becomes very woody and dies out in sections. Perhaps the growing conditions are not dry enough, pruning at wrong time. Still it blooms some–just never looks as lovely as in your photos. Look forward to seeing your herb gardens as they develop.

    • Thank you. I prune in spring as the lavender wakes up a bit. I give it a good cut back it it needs it. I found with dry sunny conditions it will do well after a pruning. I have to bring the rosemary indoors in winter as it is not hardy.

  6. I’ve always wanted lavender in my garden but had no success with it on the prairies. Not sure how it will do at the coast either. Your advice has inspired me with confidence so I will sally forth and give it my best shot.

    • Good luck Susan. Just make sure you have lots of sun and dry conditions so the plant does not sit in any water. I pick spots at the top of the garden bed.

  7. Mmm, lavender is one of my favorites, for the scent of the leaves as much as the flowers, and your photos are a lovely reminder of summer, Donna! I’m amazed at the variety you’re able to grow in that zone — they all radiate health and happiness, too. I’ve tried one variety here, but didn’t give it enough room to show well, and probably not quite enough water.

    Herbes de provence was only invented in the 1970′s??? Sheesh — every time you see it in a recipe, they act like it’s been passed down for generations. :D

    • How funny Stacy about the herbes de provence. I experimented with several cultivars of hardy varieties for zone 5 and was pleased to see so many liking the front gardens especially.

  8. A wonderful post, Donna! I adore lavender, and dry some every year for sachets in drawers and cupboards. I also look forward to the day the first blooms start to open – time to harvest for lavender ice cream! I too grow Lavender angustifolia – definitely the hardiiest here, and so aromatic, although it does burn sometimes if we get strong sun just as it opens.

    • I really need to dry more and have fun creating all kinds of wonderful things. In a dry season my flowers will dry out quicker than usual, but if I cut them off I sometimes get another flush later in the season.

  9. Love all your lavenders! I have a hard time growing them here as my soil is clay. But, I’ve had a little bit of success with Provence lavender in a sandy spot. Wish I had as many as you!

    • Holley I amended my clay for the lavender and they seemed to do OK as long as they were not in flat area where water might stand. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. Hi Donna, I love lavender–it looks so pretty as a bouquet, and the scent is wonderful. I’ve given lavender sachets as gifts, and even dried it makes a nice floral display. I’ve never used it for culinary purposes though–didn’t know it’s an edible herb. Thanks–your post was informative and the photos are beautiful. :)

  11. I love this post Donna… I just asked my husband to go downstairs right now to steep some lavender/chamomile tea for my sore throat, and then I opened your page. I’d remembered that lavender is good for inflammation, and combined with chamomile very soothing.

  12. Wow! You have stunning drifts of lavender. This is a post where I wish we had smell-o-rama! I have two small patches. One is very protected as I am in Z4. The other is in the Potager. Hopefully it will still be there come spring! Ah, spring … I’d like to cook with lavender. I think I have a couple recipes stashed away somewhere. Do you cook or bake with it?

    • I have not cooked with it Kathy but hope to more as I am discovering more about herbs. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a post you could scratch and sniff :) Love to hear more about your recipes.

  13. What a great post on Lavender. I have four out front in the driest area of my yard, in full sun. They are about the size of softballs, but they are new — planted this past spring/summer. Also have one out back in a dry area — will see how they do it each spot. I love lavender.
    I always think of the verse –
    Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green,
    When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.
    Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?
    ‘Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so

  14. Beautiful shots and good information. I love lavender and have some perennial lavender I started from seeds over 20 years ago that still comes back in the spring (knock wood).

  15. You are so fortunate! I love everything about lavender except that it hates my humid climate. I have tried, but it died and I cried! After multiple attempts I have given up trying to grow it. I have hardened my heart, for at some point I must learn the hard lesson of planting what grows. Mostly I do. But…do you think…maybe in my front stone planter? Oh yes, I did try there before, but maybe…one more try?

    • Maybe if it is in full sun, well drained and perhaps some stone mulch. I created a microclimate for mine near stone and brick…maybe you can try again ;)

  16. I love lavender, yet it is a tough plant to grow in this soil. I have to always plant it near paving to have it grow beautifully. Many clients want it, yet amending the soil with gravel for the drainage is a bit of a chore, so placing it along paved areas is the most worry free in our location.

    • Welcome back Donna. I agree I never amend the soil here with gravel, but with some organic matter…I make sure it is a well drained spot and that the plants are strategically placed near stone, bricks and blacktop so it is hot. I even have 2 plants on the fringe of a rain garden right up against the well drained gravel area of the stone wall surrounding the rain garden. They love it there.

  17. I have never had good luck with lavender, but I think that is because I have never given my plants what they truly need: sandy, well-drained soil and lots of sun. I haven’t given up just yet though. Next year I hope to create a special area for these type of plants.

  18. Lavender is so beautiful! And I love the scent. I haven’t planted it here, as I think I am nervous about planting it in my clay. Location, location, location! I have heard that it does well with that gravel mulch, though. I am interested to learn about the herbs for moister environments, as most of the herbs I am familiar with like it dry.

    • I have an herb that likes the moister environment coming up next week. I amended my clay, found the sunny spots near hot spots and kept them at the top of the bed. It worked so if you can find a spot like that it is possible.

  19. Interesting that less fertile soil promotes oil production … Lavender cuttings were my most successful because they stayed alive. (Unfortunately, 2 years later they are not much bigger.)

    • I wonder why they have not grown b-a-g. Are they in full sun? I have never tried growing from cuttings but sometimes it does take a while for plants from cuttings to grow…maybe this year they will leap and grow more.

  20. Hi Donna,

    I have a few Lavender, although I don’t tend to bring it indoors due to its strong scent – I have smell-triggered migraines – but I do love its colour and the fact the bees and butterflies also love it.
    Bit concerned I’ve lost a couple this year… Hopefully new growth will soon appear and I’ll be proven wrong.

    • I have brought them indoors either Liz. I would think they would be too strong indoors. I have made the mistake of not giving mine a chance to warm up and grow. I would pull them thinking they were dead but in fact they were not. Mine appear bedraggled and gray after winter but they seem to bounce back eventually and especially if I give them a short hair cut.

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