Walk past the cleaning aisle in grocery stores and you’ll find that most popular brands carry products with the scent of lavender. Look at catalogs of essential oils and you’ll find that lavender often makes it to the best sellers list. Special ointments, self-care packs, face products, and more, all proudly carry a lavender variety or essence in their line.
This could all be hype caused by a booming health and wellness industry. Or, it could be that the people have finally caught up with the truly wonderful benefits of the lavender plant. Whatever it be, the fact remains that lavenders are not your ordinary ornamentals.
Lavender originates from the dry regions of the Mediterranean and Europe. It is not a hard-to-grow plant and is capable of surviving harsh conditions – poor soil included. In the Mediterranean, these plants grows in craggy crevices! With a lot of suns and good water drainage, this plant can thrive. That’s perhaps the reason why Lavender is now cultivated and grown all over the world.
You can grow them as hedges in your outdoor garden, you can keep them in pots and grow them by your window. You can even keep one by your bed to help you get a good night’s sleep. Lavender is the perennial plant that keeps on giving, and today, we’re going to learn all the great things about this wonderful plant.
All about Lavender
History and Fun Facts
“Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green,
When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen…”
– English Folk Song (1672)
It is widely accepted that the origins of lavender come from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and or India. Its recorded history dates back to over 2500 years ago. People grew the plant not only for its beauty but also for the fragrance and the multiple medicinal uses.
Scientifically, the perennial’s name is Lavender Lavandula. In ancient Greece, Lavender was called nardus after the city of Naarda. This was an ancient Syrian city commonly referred to as Nard. The biblical text mentions Nard a minimum of five instances. Lavender was considered a holy plant used to prepare the Holy Essence.
The Romans used lavender for decadent and luxurious baths. Hence, the name lavender comes from the Latin ‘lavare’ which means ‘to wash’. It became the quintessential fragrance in Roman homes. They placed it on their beds, clothes, and even adorned their hair with flowers.
In ancient Egypt, lavender played an essential role in the mummification process. They equated a pleasant smell with holiness. Their reverence for the scent of this plant was so strong that King Tutankhamen’s tomb was said to have been filled with lavender. When it was opened, the tomb held the alluring fragrance of the plants.
The Herb of Love
“As Rosemary is to the spirit, so Lavender is to the soul”
The folklore that perpetuates lavender being the herb of love goes all the way back to Cleopatra. She used the scent of the plant to seduce both Julius Caesar and Marc Anthony. In the Tudor era, young women would drink a concoction of lavender tea while reciting a chant hoping to see their true love.
In European folklore, girls would place lavender under their lover’s pillow. They believed this would encourage romance and connection. This was also practiced by married couples to avoid petty arguments and strengthen their passions for one another.
To ward off… ‘Evil’ Spirits?
The people in the past may not have understood the diseases or ailments afflicting them then. But they found that hanging lavender by their doors protected them from harm. In the year and times of ravaging cholera, glovemakers perfumed their products with these plants because they found that it protected them from the deadly disease.
Grave robbers back in the seventh-century bathed in lavender oil to protect themselves from the plague. All over Europe, from Spain and Portugal to Tuscany, lavender was used in churches during holidays every year because they believed it to be capable of warding off evil spirits.
Today of course we know that lavender possesses a host of medical benefits. Those that hung lavender on the doors may have been protected from unexplainable fits because the lavender plants are anti-microbial.
An ancient Greek physician, Dioscorides, prescribed lavender plants to the army. He found that eating the plant could fight sore throat, help with indigestion and alleviate headaches. Healers also found that lavender could clean wounds and wash away dirt. We know today that these plants are antiseptic.
In the 1930s, a French Chemist by the name of René-Maurice Gattefossé applied lavender oil to treat his burned hand. He was astounded by the quick healing process of the lavender oil. This led to his study and his subsequently published book: “Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles, Hormones Végétales.” He is credited today for coining the term aromatherapy – the therapy of aromatic plants.
But lavender flower wasn’t just popular for its healing properties. In traditional Asian medicine, lavender was used to help people relax and relieve tension in their bodies. One English herbalist wrote in his study that lavender is of ‘especiall good use for all griefes and paines of the head.’
Today, research continues on how lavender plants, among others, could be developed as preventive medicine. Scientists have found numerous benefits of lavender. It is considered an alternative medicine for anxiety disorders and a healthier relief for those suffering from depression.
Those with sleep problems have experienced the relaxing properties of this plant, lavender. Another study has also found that lavender improves memory and relieves pain.
These fun facts and pieces of history show us that lavender plants are more than just your average ornamental plants. Countries from Australia to North America have cultivated these plants for their beauty and multiple uses. And you know what? You can grow lavender too!
How To Grow Lavender
Growing lavender plants in your garden, outdoors or indoors, will surely reap many rewards. We have established that this beautiful flower and herb has many uses. These flowers serve elegance in your garden, and if you want more flowers in your land, lavender is a wonderful pollinator plant.
Types Of Lavender
From the genus Lavandula, this plant has four common subgenera. All over the world, gardeners are constantly developing and cultivating hybrids so that more people can enjoy lavenders. There are a variety of types now that can grow in specific climates and growing conditions.
Lavenders, in general, are hardy plants. The English lavender is perhaps its hardiest variety. This plant also goes by the name true lavender, its gray-green foliage, and deep blue-purple flowers thrive in cooler climates. Because of that, the Lavandula angustifolia is a staple in English herb gardens. This lavender flower plant is the best variety for the kitchen because it has a lower content of camphor.
This flowering plant’s leaves are the star of the show. The texture is woolly with finely-toothed edges. Notably, the flowers aren’t as aromatic as the English counterpart, but the distinguished shape and form of this variety make it a favored ornamental. The leaves are more fragrant and intoxicating. This lavender plant variety is often grown for her essential oils which are used for perfumes.
Of the different types of lavender plants, the L stoechas is known for its interesting flower spikes. If you cultivate this as an ornamental flower plant, enjoy it for the pineapple-shaped blooms that some gardeners refer to as “bunny ears.” The Spanish Lavender or L stoechas variety is used to commercially add fragrance to air fresheners and insecticides. The flower spikes of this variety have also been used externally as an insect repellent, pain relief for rheumatic pain, and for wounds.
The silvery-green foliage is just the beginning of what is arguably an attractive flower. This hardy plant doesn’t require much attention throughout the growing season. The flowers are in dark-blue or blue-violet shades with long stems above the foliage.
Lavandula x intermedia
This variety is a popular hybrid of the Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia (The Portuguese lavender). The x intermedia is cultivated to withstand cold and hot climate conditions. Unlike other lavender plants, this is not considered edible due to her high camphor content. But the flowers are grown and can be added to fragrances and potpourris.
Growing Lavender from Seed
This perennial flower is not the easiest plant to grow from seed but some careful care and attention will help. Begin by sowing seeds in a starting mix. A traditional potting mix may not be the best choice for the seeds, create a mixture with fine vermiculite and well-draining soil.
Germination is a long process for lavender seeds. To help them sprout, place the seed trays in a warm spot and keep them in full sun. You might find the seedling germinate in two weeks (14 days) or for as long as a month. The seedlings will need sufficient water but make sure that it does not stay damp by providing good air circulation.
When you find several leaves growing, you can begin placing them in their final location. Transfer the seedling in wide pots, at least 2-inches in diameter. Secure their spot from animals and make sure they are safe from harsh elements.
How To Grow Lavender in Different Weather
While growing from seeds are a challenge, growing lavenders aren’t. Many gardeners consider this flower plant low-maintenance, drought-resistant, and strong. Sticking to a few guidelines will make this one of the easiest to care for plants in your garden.
Simply remember that lavender loves heat, hates the water, and needs space. The quality of the soil is important. (Read: Dry!) And, you’ve got to tend to these plants with the climate and seasons in mind.
The Warm Climate
Lavenders would be beautiful garden hedges in warmer climates like the southern states. But in the south, summers can be long and they can be hot. When the heat as it’s harshest, like the middle of the day, provide a bit of shade to the lovely flower plants. When you are planting them, be sure to provide a generous space for good air circulation. That elbow room also allows airflow, which helps the plants growth in regions where there is humid climates.
The Lavandula dentata or L. Stoechas are the preferred varieties in southeastern climates. These types of lavender thrives in hot and steamy weather. A good, fast-drying stone mulch and well drained soil will ensure that they flower and are healthy in time for harvest season.
The Cold Climate
While the south enjoys its dry and humid climates, the northern regions are faced with cold weather and winter. To ensure that your lavender flower and grow well, do as much research on lavender care and the varieties that grow in specific zones. Ask gardeners what their best-practices are and what sort of precautionary measures they make so lavender thrives.
Many growers in winter climates will plant lavender in types of container or pot so they can bring the plants inside during the colder months. One winter-resistant hybrid you can try to grow is the subspecies Lavandula angustifolia.
How To Grow Lavender Plants Outdoors
If you want to enjoy thriving lavender flowers in your garden, we recommend starting with seedling plants. Seeds will take a lot of time to germinate, so unless you want to test your patience and willpower, go with seedling plants. You can enjoy lavender plants as part of your manicured landscape or wild garden beds. These steps and guidelines for lavender care will help you grow your plant outdoors.
Best Time To Plant
Winter, spring, summer or fall, when is the best time to plant lavender? If you’ve been a garden hobbyist, you know that time is of the essence. For lavender, spring is the best optimum time.
Although the slightly wet weather of early spring can be challenging, but it gives the plant enough time to be healthy and grow strong before winter comes along. You may cultivate a young lavender plant in spring as the soil is getting ready to warm up. If you have decided to plant lavender during the fall season, use larger and more established plants.
For zones that experience cold winter, you may plant your lavender in a container so you can bring them indoors. You can help them grow giving them at least 8 hours of direct, full sun. Pot them in quality soil with good drainage. For southern regions without extreme winter, November is also an optimal time to be planting.
Best Location To Plant
Sun and space. These are the key things to remember when you are deciding where to plant your lavenders. To get more fragrance from the plants, place them in an alkaline-rich soil in organic matter. We’ve mentioned airflow a couple of times, and this condition can be achieved when the lavender is properly spaced, ideally, 1 to 3 feet apart. They will stretch quite tall, with southern varieties going up to 36 inches tall. Northern varieties mostly turn out shorter and denser due to the weather.
If you don’t have access to full sun, ensure that your outdoor plants get some warmth. These placement tips may do the trick. Plant lavender in a southern-facing wall because this spot emits heat from the sun. You can also plant them near surfaces like asphalt or top the soil with stone mulch. Lavenders thrive in heat and will thank you for it with healthy new growth.
Well Draining Soil
For most plants, the universal rule of thumb is ‘don’t overwater’, the same goes for the lavender plants. These flowers can’t tolerate excess water in the soil or even in the air. For thriving new growth in the garden, keep the soil dry. If you’re unsure about the quality of your drainage, you may take some extra steps. Some gardeners dig a half-foot deeper in the soil and then add a layer of gravel. This move helps improve the water drainage. Alternatively, to control water levels, you can plant them in containers and pots.
…And Non-Acidic Soil
It’s not enough that your soil has proper drainage and won’t trap moisture. The soil pH is crucial for your lavender’s growth, if it’s too acidic, you won’t be enjoying your lavender and new growth any time soon. The goal is to have an alkaline, lean soil to have happy flowers. If you don’t check your soil, you may get away with it the first two years. But the the third year of growth is crucial for lavenders, this is when they reach their peak.
Before planting your flowers, check the soil pH with a simple soil test. The pH level should be at 7.0 or around that. You can use a cup of lime and bone meal fertilizer mixture to amend your soil if it is slightly acidic. Add this mixture to the soil every year or so. You can also use crushed oyster shell to your acidic soil to improve the alkalinity.
Sometimes, lavender grows woody stems. Not pruning the plants would hamper the growth of these flowers. If you want to enjoy new growth, you’ll have to take on pruning the stems of lavender. The plant flowers in the summer, generally, it should be pruned right after to help prevent a damaging winter.
The fragrant foliage of lavender usually comes from young stems. Check lavender plants that are two years and older, cut back the woody stems by one-third. If the variety you have has especially woody stems, pruning lavender regularly throughout the growing season is the best way to go. You will be rewarded with great looking flowers that have better foliage.
How To Grow Lavender Plants Indoors
Whether you live in a place with cold winters, or you don’t have the luxury of an outdoor garden, growing lavenders indoors is a viable option. You just have to remember a few important things.
Get a pot or container that will help fight the risk of root rot. Use a pot that’s as big as the root ball of the plant. To ensure that water won’t clog in the pot, add a layer of gravel to the base of the pot to help with draining. Personally, a terra cotta pot is the best choice here. It releases moisture that will keep the soil dry and prevent root rot.
Some growers recommend planting the French lavender and growing them indoors. They are smaller plants that do better in small containers. Placement is everything when it comes to growing indoors.
Lavender grows and thrives where there is light. Give them as much sun as possible. If you can, place your pot in a south-facing window and make sure the lavender gets up to four hours of direct sunlight. So that growth is even, rotate the pot about every week. You may have to use growing lights if you don’t have access to full sun.
Harvesting The Flower
Fresh or dried, these flowers have many uses and are truly worth growing. The good news is, if you’ve tended well to the plants, harvesting the lavenders will be quite simple! Cut the lavender right above where the woody stem starts. You can bundle them up and allow the flower to dry up.
They will grow back each year and you can enjoy new and fresh blooms! Add them to your bouquet, special recipes, or as potpourri.
Time to get planting!
Lavender thrives best in full sun where there is enough air and space. Most varieties are perennials that grows back every year after you harvest them. With proper care and attention, this low-maintenance beauty will reward you with many benefits and uses. Start with a trusty pot or container, and enjoy this powerful herb.