Lavender is trending

Purple is the ‘new colour of health’, as well as the choice of Pantone’s trendsetters. Foodies flirting with ‘botanical’ flavours are experimenting with lavender lattes, and the world-wide focus on wellness underscores lavender’s pre-eminent position as one of the best natural remedies for urban stress, anxiety and depression.

Our own move towards heat- and drought-tolerant plants remind us of lavender’s Mediterranean nature and its affinity with succulents, needing the same sunny, well-drained growing conditions. It is a durable plant for containers, which become trendier by the year.  For the ‘grow-your-own’ movement, lavender is a valuable companion plant that attracts pollinators while distracting other pests in search of luscious vegetables.

Lavender has shaken off its old-fashioned image (no more ladies in lavender), and is bang up to date with our health, wellness, lifestyle and gardening requirements.

Best lavenders for containers

Container gardening remains the leading garden trend, with plant-filled pots used as garden and patio décor. Not surprising, considering that millennials and retirees, who are our two biggest groups, are the most likely to live in smaller spaces. Lavender is a showy, tough and fragrant plant for pots, which do best when placed in semi-shade and even bright shade. A pot of fragrant lavender in full bloom can fill an entire balcony or patio with their lovely perfume.

  • Lavender dentata or French lavender (grey or green foliage) with large blue flowers is the first choice for containers because of its large flowers, and medium-sized bushes.
  • Lavandula intermedia ‘Margaret Roberts’ flowers continually and may grow very large, so is best for large containers that are intended to be a feature. It has very aromatic grey leaves and small blue flowers.

Care: Water pots every day in very hot, dry and windy conditions. Fertilise two or three times during the growing season with a liquid fertiliser or a light granular fertiliser like Vigorosa 5:1: 5 (25).

Best lavender for the garden

Lavender ticks all the boxes when choosing plants for pollinators, for the senses, for low water-usage, and for low maintenance. Newly planted lavender needs to be well watered, but once established it only needs deep watering once a week. Drip irrigation is particularly suitable because lavender prefers water at root level. Wet foliage becomes susceptible to fungus diseases. For informal planting space bushes 45cm – 90cm apart. For hedging, plant up to 60cm apart.

  • Dutch lavender (Lavandula allardii) and spica (Lavandula x allardii ‘African Pride’) are excellent hedge lavenders. Both have silvery grey leaves and don’t flower prolifically, so are ideal for clipping
  • Lavandula angustifolia ‘Margaret Roberts’ is also a tall-growing variety but is never without flowers. The foliage is grey to grey-green and much finer than the Dutch lavender. The flower spikes are slender with a light sprinkling of blue-purple flowers along the stem. When planted en masse the effect is stunning, because it creates a haze of flowers that are loved by butterflies.
  • The large fragrant flowers of French lavender (Lavender dentata) make it a great bedding lavender, especially because of the compact, bushy growth. The flowers are pickable, last well in the vase and also dry well. It is easily pruned as a topiary or to remain compact. The strong scent of the flowers attracts butterflies from a distance.
  • Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is most spectacular in spring, with a second, lesser flush in autumn. The variety of stoechas is huge, and all have striking flower spikes. The plants are compact (30 – 60cm high), with fine grey-green leaves. This is a short-lived perennial that needs regular replacing.
  • Fern-leaf lavenders (Lavandula pinnata, canariensis and multifida) take more shade and water than other lavenders but still need sunlight during the day. They produce delicate sprays of flowers, but the foliage is not aromatic like other lavenders. They create a wild, airy feel in a garden bed and are spectacular en masse.
  • Lavandula intermedia ‘Grosso’ is a miniature lavender for borders and is very fragrant. Plants are tough and frost hardy, with silvery leaves and flowers once a year.

Good to know: Trim lavender after each flowering flush, or in spring, but do not cut back into the hard wood.

Best culinary lavenders

Lavandula intermediate ‘Grosso’ was one of Margaret’s favourite culinary lavenders. This angustifolia cross is far more robust and long-lived than angustifolia varieties.

The smaller flowers of ‘Margaret Roberts’ lavender are good for adding to baking: biscuits and scones, as well as lavender sugar, lavender cream and meringues. Strip the flowers off the stems.

Less is more when it comes to using lavender as a flavouring. Just a hint of it perfumes desserts, hot or cold drinks, or baked goodies, but too much and the taste is like soap!

The late Margaret Roberts, also called ‘the lavender lady’, wrote the definitive book on lavender. Published by Briza, The Lavender Book includes an incredible array of mouth-watering lavender-inspired recipes, from soups to desserts. It is a cook’s dream.

Here is her recipe for Lavender Ice Cream

  • Warm 500ml milk and 2 tablespoons of fresh lavender flowers ( intermedia ‘Grosso’)
  • Beat 2 eggs with 250g castor sugar until creamy and add 2 tablespoons of cornflour mixed with a little milk.
  • Slowly add the warm milk/lavender mixture to the egg mixture, beating with a wooden spoon.
  • When the mixture has thickened, let it stand and cool.
  • Add two cups of well-beaten thick cream to the mixture. Add a drop or two of mauve colouring.
  • Put into the freezer for an hour.
  • Remove after an hour, put into a large bowl and beat well. Do this two or three more times to break down the ice crystals, then freeze until firm.
  • Serve in glass bowls, each garnished with a sprig of lavender.

Make a lavender-infused syrup that can be used as a drizzle or to sweeten drinks and desserts. The best lavenders for this are ‘Grosso’ or ‘Dentata’, because the larger flowers are easier to infuse. To make lavender syrup: In a small saucepan combine ½ cup honey, ½ cup water and 4 – 5 lavender flower sprigs. Simmer and stir until the honey is dissolved. Strain and chill before using.

Try this: Lavender vodka spritzer
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine two tots of vodka, one tot of lavender syrup and freshly squeezed lemon juice. If it is not sweet enough, add more syrup. Shake until well mixed and strain into a cocktail glass, and top with a splash of club soda, with a sprig of lavender to garnish.

Best lavenders for wellness

Lavender is best known as an anti-stress herb. To lift depression, relieve nervous tension, insomnia and even phobias, sip a soothing lavender tea or make a tincture, taking small amounts 2 – 3 times a day. By stimulating the blood flow, lavender helps to reduce headaches and migraines, which are often related to stress. This soothing effect also works on the digestion, relieving colic, wind and bloating.
As a first aid herb, lavender’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties make it effective in treating cuts, burns, stings, bruises, and eczema, as well as many aches and pains.

  • For soothing external grazes, cuts and other skin problems, use an infusion of Lavandula intermedia ‘Margaret Roberts’.
  • To make a cream for relieving aches, sprains and cramps, use a strong infusion of Lavandula ‘Grosso’ or ‘Margaret Roberts’ lavender mixed with aqueous cream.
  • For a compress, use allardii ‘African Pride’ or L. allardii ‘Dutch lavender’.
  • For teas or tinctures use Lavandula intermedia ‘Margaret Roberts’, ‘Grosso’ or L. dentata.

5 simple ways to enjoy lavender

  • Charm your guests by slipping a sprig of lavender into their serviette ring or by placing a small spray at their place setting.
  • When your body aches, tie a bunch of lavender under the hot tap and run a perfumed bath.
  • On cold nights, make a hot water bottle and slip some sprigs of lavender between it and the cover. The heat will disperse the fragrance.
  • Instead of mothballs, place dried lavender in cupboards to perfume the bed linen and your own clothes, while keeping out fishmoths.
  • Add natural freshness and fragrance to a room with a jug full of lavender flowers and foliage.

For more information: www.healthyliving-herbs.co.za

The Gardener