Your guide to planting, care, and harvesting lavender
It thrives in full sun and well-drained soil
More: Easy summer flowers
At her farm in Silverton, Oregon, Trina Riemersma grows the varieties listed below. All thrive in full sun and well-drained soil (add organic matter to improve heavy soils).
• English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Sunset climate zones 2-24. A sweetly fragrant lavender used for perfume and sachets; also good for flavoring ice cream, jams, meat rubs, and pastries.
Riemersma finds her 'Buena Vista' lavender ― with fragrant, dark blue-purple flowers ― the perfect complement to savory dishes and sweet desserts ( Lavandula angustifolia 'Mun-stead' and 'Hidcote' can also flavor food). She uses it to enhance blackberry jam and shortbread cookies and as a rub (along with rosemary) for cedar-planked salmon with lavender-honey glaze. For the recipe, see her website.
Most varieties form mounds of foliage up to 2 feet tall. Unbranched stems rise above gray-green or silvery foliage; flowers are white, pink, lavender-blue, or various shades of purple.• Lavandin (L. x intermedia) Zones 4-24. Branching stems with flowers that appear at intervals near top.
'Grosso' is a widely planted commercial variety in France and Italy; possibly the most fragrant lavandin of all. Compact growth to 2½ ft. tall and wide. Silvery foliage; large, conical spikes of violet-blue flowers with darker calyxes. Often repeats bloom in late summer. Excellent for drying.
Although 'Provence' is often described as the perfume lavender, this selection doesn't produce the kind of oil used in perfumery. Grows 2 ft. tall, with fragrant violet-blue flowers that dry well. Good hedge plant.
• Spanish lavender (L. stoechas) Zones 4-24. Stocky plants grow to 3 ft. tall with gray or gray-green leaves. Bracts resemble rabbit ears; they come in shades of purple to pink. Blooms spring into summer.
Plant lavender in full sun and well-drained soil (add organic matter to improve heavy soils).
Water plants deeply but infrequently, when the soil is almost dry.
Prune in early spring or at harvest time. For low-growing varieties, trim back foliage 1 to 2 inches. Starting in a plant's second year, all 3- to 4-foot lavenders should be cut back by about a third to keep the plant from getting overly woody. If a plant becomes woody and open in the center, remove a few of the oldest branches; take out more when new growth starts. If this doesn't work, it's time to dig out the plant and replace it. (Some commercial growers replace plants after 10 to 12 years.)
Harvest for sachets and potpourri by cutting flower spikes or stripping flowers from stems just as blossoms show color; dry in a cool, shaded place.
TIPS FOR STARTING A LAVENDER FARM
Know what you're getting into. Question locals about life in the new community before you commit. Assess what's needed to make the new place livable, and how much you can do yourself.
LAVENDERS BY MAIL
If you can't find the variety you want locally, try one of these sources.
VISIT THE FARM
Havenhill Lavender Farm; is open to visitors Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from May 18 through September 16. Special events this summer include classes on cooking and growing lavender; lavender crafts; and Saturday Night Sunsets (farm strolls with wine tasting and live music). INFO: 582 Drift Creek Rd. S.E., Silverton, OR; 866/430-8396.