All about Lavender (Lavandula)

All about Lavender (Lavandula)

What are Lavenders?

Lavender, from the family Lamiaceae, is a wonderful perennial herb that is suitable to be grown in a number of places not only in the herb borders of your garden but also in containers. It has both culinary and medicinal properties as well as being a joy to pollinators such as bees. From early summer, Lavender comes into its own and is a fragrant joy in the Jekka’s Herbetum and your herb garden.

Traditionally it was grown either to add to bowls of pot pourri or to sew into little bags to sweeten the air and perfume clothes. When rushes were strewn on floors, lavender was one on the plants people would add for freshness. There are a number of uses for lavender, not only culinary (from confectionary to tea infusions), but also cosmetic and health. A powerful oil is also distilled from the flowers. At the end of this blog, Jekka provides a recipe for her Lavender Oat Cakes.

Which lavender is the best lavender?

Our collection of lavenders at Jekka's Herbetum comprises over 30 varieties (see Jekkapedia for our full list). There are four main groups of lavender, which are:

  • Lavandula angustifolia, commonly known as English lavender, comes in many varieties; this group of Lavenders are tough, hardy and very popular. They make good hedges, with a compact habit and narrow grey, green aromatic leaves, and short compact flower spikes. It is generally low-growing and has a compact, mounded shape. There overall height is between 30 – 60cm. This lavender blooms in late spring to early summer. It is best pruned straight after flowering in late August as this will give it time to put on new growth that will protect it through the winter weather. They are hardy most places throughout the UK, even in severe frosts.

  • Lavandula dentata, commonly known as Fringed lavender or French lavender, is relatively large and showy and grows to a height of 1 metre. Its foliage has a distinctive scent with a hint of rosemary. It has grey-green, linear or lance-shaped leaves with attractive toothed edges and a lightly woolly texture. This lavender is hardy to -5C so is best grown in a container.

  • Lavandula x intermedia, these large elegant Lavenders are a cross between angustifolia angustifolia (meaning narrow leaves) and latifolia (meaning broad leaves) and are often called Lavandin. Lavandins are mounded in shape and usually larger than Lavandula angustifolia They have long flower spikes that tend to fan out from the centre with an overall height between 75cm – 1m. These lavenders bloom in mid- to late summer, and a full pruning after the long blooming season will prepare a plant for winter. As the stems are long, you might need to prune as much as half the plant’s size. Like Lavandula angustifolia they are hardy most places throughout the UK, even in severe frosts.

  • Lavendula stoechas, commonly known as Spanish lavender, topped lavender or French lavender, prefers warmer climate and is the least hardy of the lavenders, it can tolerate a light frost but not below -5C. It can grow 45 to 60 cm tall but is different from other types as it has short flower spikes topped with pineapple-shaped blooms with purple flower petals or ‘ears’. The foliage is more fragrant than the flowers. It also blooms the earliest of all the Lavenders in spring. If you cut back after the first flowering it will give a second flowering in mid summer.

How do you grow lavender?

Lavender likes relatively low-fertility soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline. Most important, it must be well drained. If the soil is clay or overly moist, add horticultural grit to promote drainage.

Once established, lavender plants require little care or maintenance. While they should be watered regularly early on, established plants need little water as they are extremely drought tolerant.

It is important to prune lavender after flowering is complete. Regular pruning keeps lavender plants looking neat, helps maintain a protective shape for downpours or heavy snow fall and encourages new growth.

Jekka’s top tip is “cut back one 8th in the 8th month", this translates to prune in August to an 8th of the green (non-woody) stem. Low-growing varieties can be cut back to the new growth while larger types can be pruned to about an 8th of their green (non-woody) stem, but do not cut down to leafless wood. In the UK all pruning should be finished by October giving the plant time to heal before the first frosts.

As anyone who has attended one of our Open Days knows, the golden rule for pruning is to make sure your secateurs are sharp and clean before starting. This is for two reasons; firstly it stops the spread of any potential disease from other plants in the garden and secondly, it makes sure the cut is clean and the wood does not split, which could damage the plant.

Finally, as with other herbs in the Lamiaceae family, do not forget to feed through the flowering season.

Jekka's top 5 lavenders

Lavender oat biscuits recipe from Jekka’s Herb Cookbook.

Serve Jekka’s Lavender oat biscuits with a cup of tea or a herbal infusion along with a bowl of clotted cream and fresh summer fruits, especially raspberries. The perfect summer’s treat.

Makes approx. 12 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 75g unsalted butter;
  • 75g porridge oats;
  • 75g sugar;
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup;
  • 1 tbsp milk;
  • 1 tsp lavender leaves, removed from the stem and finely chopped;
  • 1 tsp of lavender flowers removed from the flowering spike and left whole.

Steps:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 180 deg C;
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment;
  3. Sift the flour into a bowl, add the oats, sugar and mix well;
  4. In a small pan, over a low heat, melt the butter with the syrup and milk and stir until well amalgamated;
  5. Add the flour, oats, sugar and lavender leaves to the small pan and mix well;
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lavender flowers;
  7. Place a tablespoonful of mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and shape into rounds, leaving a space between each;
  8. Pop into the oven and bake for 10 -15 minutes until golden brown;
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet;
  10. Lift and place on a wire rack until completely cool;
  11. Serve and enjoy!

Wish to learn more about Lavender? See Jekka's Guide to Lavender.

For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out Jekka's How to Grow Herbs videos and ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring and autumn & winter.

Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (sales@jekkas.com). We no longer offer a mail order service for our plants.