29 October 2007

Lavender blue…lavender green


Reading fellow garden-bloggers’ recent reports of hard frosts, I expected to find a garden turning to mush when I went outside earlier today. The banshee wind that has been rattling this old house for the past few days had a definite bite to it, but it actually kept us from that killing frost. We did get some cold damage to some of the more tender annuals, but looking at them brought on no regret. It is, after all, nearly the end of October, and some of these annuals have been growing in containers here since late April. It’s time.

But there are still gifts to be found and cherished, sometimes surprising gifts. I’ve mentioned roses, delphinium, coneflowers putting on repeat performances but the best surprise was one I found this afternoon.

A single sprig of lavender in bloom, its rich colour a foil for that coolly grey-green foliage. This particular plant flowered earlier, and quite well; what possessed it to throw up this mid-autumn gift, who can really say, but it was like the smile of a sunflower. I debated only momentarily before deciding to pick it and bring it in my office; a single stem in a pewter kenzan now graces the clutter of my desk.



Lavender. The very name evokes a romantic, clean fragrance, a glorious burst of purple haze in the garden, memories of scented closets, lace sachets, bees drunken on nectar. I think it may be summer incarnate, although its fragrance is not the heavy richness of a rose or a heliotrope or a brugsmansia.

Lavender is an ancient herb, with natural habitat in such diverse locales as Greece, France, Morocco, Egypt and India. It’s not known what peoples first discovered the uses of the plant, but Dioscorides, a Greek physician of the first century AD, makes note of lavender in his writings. Interestingly, although we hear the term “English lavender” used by several companies, lavender is not indigenous to England, and probably was brought to that country by the invading Romans.

According to herbalists, the plant’s essential oils are useful for treating burns, headache, insomnia and depression, to repel insects, and as a general-purpose antiseptic. In medieval times, when personal hygiene was less important or possible than today, people often used highly scented herbs such as lavender as “strews”; stems and flowers of a plant were strewn over floors so that when they were trodden upon, their fragrance was released (and hopefully compensated somewhat for less pleasant odours!) It's often used in herbal knot gardens and topiary and other designs where some formality is desired, but works splendidly just massed in a perennial border too.


Lavender plants CAN be a bit problematic to grow, but the secret is to give them plenty of sun, good drainage, and not too fertile a soilAs with most herbs, lavender likes a poorer soil, and if you overfertilize, the plants won’t be nearly as fragrant. They hate wet feet, and cold, soggy soil through the winter months will do them in. Here in much of Atlantic Canada they can be winter-killed by lack of protective cover in the winter, but mulching them with straw, hay or evergreen boughs will help get them through. Cultivar selection is important too; here, I can grow Lavender angustifolia cultivars including Munstead, Lady, Twickle Purple and Hidcote. Others such as the fancier Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ssp pedunculata) shown above are just not hardy in my part of the world unless grown in containers.

I happen to like lavender in just about any form; in soap, lotion, shampoo, or pure essential oil; in tea, seasoning, and sweets (if you’ve never had a lavender chocolate, you can’t imagine the decadence, but lavender oatcakes are equally wonderful.) Mind you, the products need to use REAL lavender and essential oil, not these hideous synthetics that you find in products from dryer sheets to dish soap to ‘aromatherapy’ hand cleaners. Give me a break. Aromatherapy is valid and fascinating, but it calls for using real essential oils, not cheap synthetics.

But in my experience the best way to cherish lavender is to have a small box, a sachet or a dish of potpourri that is nothing but pure lavender florets. I keep sachets in my office, in our bedroom, even in the car and in my shoulder bag, because I find the fragrance revives my spirits, and reminds me of warm summer days.

Which today certainly wasn’t. But summer will come again. And so will the lavender, blooming in earnest.

Meanwhile, however, I’ll cherish such gifts as found flowers.

What found floral surprises have delighted you in recent days?

31 comments:

  1. jodi - i love lavendar too! i ordered and planted 3 very very small lavendar plants that i paid about $13,000 each for (okay maybe that's an exhaggeration but they were so overpriced it's not funny!). They finally took off and are doing great. This weekend as I was building the second raised bed the scent of lavendar was so strong that I felt like I was standing immediatly in the middle of an enormous field of the stuff. All from my 3 itty bitty plants! After reading your post, I'm inspired to take some to work with me tomorrow. Thanks for the tips!

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  2. if only i can grow them in my backyard. lovely! lavender based products cost a bomb in my country.. sigh.

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  3. I am another cat and lavender lover. The poppies below are fabulous too.

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  4. What a lovely blog! I'll be back to visit again. :)

    -Sarita Leone, author of Snowdance

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  5. I love the song that you used as the inspiration for your post's title...

    Lavender blue dilly dilly
    Lavender green
    If I were king dilly dilly
    You'd be my queen

    It reminds me of my childhood. Thank you!

    Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

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  6. I am a gardening lover who just happpened on your blog. It is funny that I spend so much time planning and planting in the sping and summer months, then fall comes and without doing a thing there are beautiful colors everyhwere, growing in and out of each other with no plan. I guess someone up in heaven is a better gardner than me.

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  7. Lovely post Jodi, I enjoyed reading it and gazing at all the lovely pics too. Liek you I'm nuts about lavender. I harvest my lavender in August (well most of it) make bunches of it and then hang them upside down in my utility room to dry. In winter I put them on the fire in my wood stove to once again smell the lovely fragrance of lavender on a cold and dreary winter's day. It lifts the spirit instantly.

    I also made sachets for myself and for my father as it reminds him of his Mum who used to put sachets of lavender between her freshly laundered linnen.

    BTW Lavender stoechas is called French lavender over here, not Spanish.

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  8. What a lovely sight the lavender is and the fragrance is just heavenly but can I grow it ? No luck with it returning unfortunately.

    BTW, I know you suffer from arthritis and wanted to let you know that the latest research shows that drinking green tea ( 3-4 cups or more per day ) helps. Check my blog in the next few days for a post on it.

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  9. My lavender has died when planted in the ground here, but one old gnarled plant has stayed alive in a large container. Even one stalk is a nice little prewinter gift, Jodi.

    When I cut back the no-longer-flowering moon vine, there was a self-seeded zinnia hiding underneath - also a nice surprise.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  10. I am a "Blooming writer" (sorry, I had to say that).

    Actually, I am a freelance writer who is just getting started in her career. I came across your blog and I must say it is put together quite well.

    I plan on making several more stops by to check out your content here.

    Have a great day
    , and thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and the rest of the world.

    Keep smiling,
    Tamee

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  11. The pictures on your blog are breathtaking! I appreciate you sharing them with us in cyberspace!

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  12. I love lavender and those pictures!!! A haze of lavender blue is just beautiful and brings the scent to mind immediately. I do have trouble with lavender in the long term but I put plants in every couple of years because they are so wonderful.

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  13. Congratulations for being chosen as one of Blogger's "Blogs of Note"! What an honor! You soooo deserve it! Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

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  14. After reading this, sniff sniff, yes I am sure, sniff sniff...I can smell the lavender on the north wind blowing through here...
    Thank you for sending that lovely smell, mmmmmmmmmmmm.

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  15. I can almost smell the lavender just reading your post. I just love it, too. I have a couple of sprigs of it blooming in the garden right now, too! They look so lonely, all by themselves.

    I've got three different cultivars - 'Jean Davis', 'Munstead' and 'Silver Edge.'

    The surprise for me today was the purple primrose with the bright yellow eye. That is, until Romie pointed out to me that the fall-blooming crocus were BLOOMING! I've had them for two years with no blooms. I'm thrilled!!

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  16. Hey Jodi,
    Love your site. So many lovely pictures of flowers just made my day! just made my day
    I am just crazy about flowers and love to read and write about them. Please do visit my blog simple-expressions.blogspot.com.
    I would love any comments/suggestion from you.
    Thanks
    Alka Srivastava

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  17. Hi all and welcome to bloomingwriter! I'm wayyyyy overworked right now with writing deadlines, so I'm behind in visiting my regularly visited blogs as well as new ones. Normally I'd respond to each comment, but work is calling (yup, working on assignments at nearly midnight). So please forgive me for not being around much this week, and I'll catch up when I can. Happy gardening, everyone! (Even if it means cleaning up, or gardening indoors.)

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  18. Deadlines? Yep, know them well. ;-)

    I have lavender blooming too, I guess because the growing season has been so loooooong this year. I cut some lavender back twice so it's blooming a third time. Amazing and wonderful.

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  19. Jodi, the flower that has most delighted me in recent days is... lavender! I noticed a couple of bloomstalks on my 2-year-old plant and have been stopping to sniff them ever since. (Not sure if it's 'Hidcote' or 'Munstead' as I forgot to right down which was where and then the other plant died when I tried to move it at the wrong time.)

    With my well-draining soil lavender grows fine for me without any extra effort. At the old house (heavy clay) I had to make a mound and plant the lavender on top of it to keep it from rotting out over the winter. It was still worth it for that lovely scent. :)

    Thanks for making me think lavender thoughts today. Good luck on those deadlines!

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  20. Have just found your blog by serendipity, and had to tell you your photos are gorgeous! Lavender's my personal very favorite of favorite plants, and a favorite scent, too. But I'm hopeless as a gardener. I'm a writer, as well, and work in a library. I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Library Studies, so my garden was on its own this year. And it's gone wild!! Your blog's inspirational. Very well done.

    Lisa

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  21. Gorgeous photos and what a beautiful lavender garden. In case you're interested, another use for lavender is for headache, whereby you take a bottle of essential oil and inhale a few whiffs. Try it.

    FA

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  22. Nice blog! I will definitely come back and visit. You have a beautiful garden!

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  23. jodi,

    Way to go -- blogger of note. I saw the title and wondered "is that our Jodi?"

    Hope all is well out east.

    --jd

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  24. lavender blue is my cat's name. he is a bluepoint balinese. i had never heard the song with the lyrics lavender blue before.

    we call him lavi for short. lovely blog!

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  25. Lavender and green were my colors for my wedding this past summer and looking at these photos made me feel like I fell into a lavender dream and got married all over again (insert romantic sigh). Does that make any sense to anyone? Thank you Jodi, for posting such beautiful pictures.

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  26. The lavender around the knot garden is just heavenly, now that's a great way to use it to its full advantage! I love all your photos, especially since I'm not so good at growing lavender myself, at least I can look at yours done so beautifully!

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  27. Eeeks--a little clarification here, Lost Roses: two of those photos aren't from MY garden; the top photo is part of a wonderful garden at my alma mater, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, while that formal knot garden is at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, Ontario--at least, I THINK that's where I took that photo. I'm far too freestyle a gardener to ever try something like that. But I do grow great lavender...
    the only reason I could answer this so quickly? I'm busily finishing both an assignment, AND a posting for Garden Blogger's Muse Day,; sleep is sometimes vastly overrated...:-)

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  28. freestyle gardener? what a great expression :) my English will definitely get better :)
    I love this post! Lavender is my one of my favourite plants in the garden. Scent is one of the reason, but also they look so amazing on the flowerbed when cut properly. An especially when combined with roses - from which they keep the pests away. Last days I was preparing a new rose-lavender bed in my garden.
    Your post reminded me, that I should take indoor my French lavender, cos they will not survive winter in my zone6. I will dig them out, put in containers and winter in the cellar. And next summer I will keep them in containers.
    greeings,

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  29. Hi Jodi... love all the lavender. I grew some awhile back and then wove it into "lavender wands" which was very fun to do. I still have a couple of them laying around. I think I'll re-introduce some lavender to my garden in the spring.

    The flower that has delighted me the most is, of course, my night blooming cereus, if you count indoor plants, too!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

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