JoAnne Skelly: Lovely lavender
Whether you scent your linens, buy perfumed soaps, add it as a food flavoring, make essential oils or simply enjoy its flowers, lavender is a garden delight. On a warm summer morning, you will find it covered in bees collecting nectar and pollen. Lavandula angustifolia, commonly known as English lavender, is the hardiest species for our area.
Although we usually see lavender covered in flowers of various shades of purple, it also comes in pink or white. The color of the foliage is similar to the blue-gray of sagebrush. There are so many varieties to choose from.
This Mediterranean native can be a used in the landscape as an informal hedge, as edging for a flower garden or as a focal point in an herb garden. In height, it ranges from eight inches to 24 inches. It thrives in full sun and only needs moderate amounts of water, perfect for our arid environment. A possible down side is that it is may be short-lived, supposedly providing only three to five years of pleasure, before thinning out and getting unattractively woody. I haven’t found that to be the case.
Lavender is said to have therapeutic properties as well, working on the nervous system, blood pressure, menopausal symptoms and mild inflammation. In folk remedies, it supposedly helps digestive disorders and acts as a mild diuretic (Natural Guide to Medicinal Herbs and Plants, F. Stary).
Lavender is easy to care for. It needs little fertilizer. When it is done blooming, cut the flower stalks off to the top of the foliage. I use my infamous hedge trimmers for this, since I can cut all the flowers off of a large plant in a few minutes rather than the hour or more it might take by hand with pruners.
However, let’s come back to the bees. I think the best reason to plant lavender is that bees love it. We gardeners are always trying to attract and feed bees so that they will pollinate our fruit trees and vegetables. By planting lavender around our gardens, we can improve pollination.
Then, after feeling good about benefitting the bees, we can make sachets, lavender wands, wreaths or dried flower arrangements and enjoy the wonderful fragrance. Or, use it to flavor food. Some people make lavender vinegar. I tried white chocolate lavender ice cream once and it was delicious.
Lovely lavender makes us stop and smell the flowers.
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.