Lavender Loveliness

Lavender is one of the ‘go-to’ plants for a cottage garden style planting scheme but it has so many uses, from culinary to wellbeing so here’s my quick guide on what to buy and how to use it.

Lavendula is the botanical name and they are easy to grow too which makes them ideal for any border. They look fab with roses and other perennials and shrubs.

There are many varieties to choose from – the English lavender is the hardiest – you may see this as Lavandula angustifolia on plant labels. Another popular variety is French lavender, which has cute ‘ears’ on the top of the flower – sometimes known as butterfly lavender. All of them are loved by pollinators.

This plant is happiest in a sunny garden with well-drained, chalky or sandy soil. They don’t tolerate shade, damp or freezing cold as they originate from sunny climates, so they thrive in Mediterranean environments and are suitable for containers, herb and gravel gardens, and balconies.

Lavender come in a range of colours too – from white to pink, mauves and blues, so there is something for everyone’s colour scheme.

French Lavender

How to grow lavender

They can be easily grown from seed (follow seed packet instructions) but if you buy already grown plants, put them out once the soil has started to warm up, usually from April onwards. Don’t ever plant lavender in the winter when young plants are vulnerable to rotting due to cold and wet soils.

You can also grow in containers – use a multipurpose compost or John Innes No2, add in some grit to improve drainage. Keep watered until established but especially during hot and dry periods as containers dry out quickly.

Propagation / cuttings

Another way to grow lavender is by taking cuttings. If you’ve not done this before, it’s a simple process and can be applied to many perennials and deciduous shrubs. Who doesn’t love a free plant?

In horticultural terms it’s called Softwood Cuttings (just in case you want to research it further). Its called softwood as you are cutting the new growth from the plant in early spring when the tips are young and flexible.

Step 1

Collect material (shoots) early in the day when the plant is full of water (turgid) and healthy. Use non-flowering shoots, as they will root more readily. Remove up to 10cm of shoot, cutting off the material neatly above a bud on the parent plant.

Step 2

Most softwood cuttings are nodal – this is just below the leaf joint. This is where there’s a concentration of hormones to stimulate root production.

  • Using a sharp knife (or scissors) trim below a node to make a cutting about 5-10cm long
  • Remove the lower leaves, pinch out the soft tip and dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder (which is available from any garden retailers)
  • In a pot of compost using a dibber (a clean blunt stick), make a hole and insert the base of the cutting with the first pair of leaves just above the level of the compost. Press gently around it to ensure the compost is firm (but not solid).
  • Label the pot and water it from above to settle the compost
  • Cuttings should be placed in good light but not direct, scorching sunlight.
  • Ensure the compost is moist until the cuttings are well-rooted which takes about 6 to 10 weeks
  • Possibly not all cuttings will root, so remove any dead, rotting, dying or diseased material so it doesn’t infect the other cuttings.

These are Salvia cuttings, but it’s the same process.

Salvia cuttings scissors plant pot

salvia plant cuttings

Salvia cuttings in pots

Pruning

To stop your plants getting woody and mis-shapen it’s best to prune back in the late summer once all the flowers have stopped. This can be done using shears or secateurs. Cut back all the spent flowers and trim back this year’s growth, leaving around 2-3cm. Don’t cut back to the woody stems as the plant won’t be able to grow the following year. It’s likely you will need to replace the plant in this case. You can always tidy up the plant in the spring.

Drying lavender

It’s easy to dry and preserve so that the seeds can be used in scented sachets or added to sugar for culinary purposes.

Simply harvest the lavender stems before it’s fully in bloom (this retains the scent and colour). Gather the stems into a bunch (approx. 2cm in diameter). Wrap a rubber band around the stem ends to hold in place and hang the bunch upside down in a cool dry and dark place for 2-4 weeks.

You can also use this process for drying other flowers and herbs.