Everything you ever needed or wanted to know about lavender

Some fun facts: The oil is said to soothe and heal insect bites, sunburns and small cuts, even acne.

I couldn’t help but notice the other day while driving around town that lavender is coming into bloom. That, of course, got me thinking about growing lavender, choosing varieties and how to actually use the plant other than just to look at it.

It turns out lavender has been in production for more than 2,500 years and there is quite a bit of information out there to share.

Lavender hails from Western Europe, close to the Mediterranean Sea, and likes a similar climate to ours, as long as its feet don’t get too wet in the winter — well-draining soil is a must, full sun as well, and if you really want to pamper it, apply some lime once a year. Lavender is drought tolerant, once established, and deer resistant.

The one and only drawback in my book is that it can look like a plucked chicken coming out of winter and can be short-lived if you give it too much mulch and fertilizer.

There are English, Spanish and French lavender varieties. By far, English lavender (and its many hybrids) is the most popular. The nursery has carried more than three dozen varieties over the years, but I think a half dozen or so is plenty to choose from. Here are three new flavors that just came in that you might want to try out:

Lavandula angustifolia “Hidcote Superior”: This is an English variety, which is an improvement over the tried-and-true plain “Hidcote.” It is a compact form of the original, reaching only 12 to 14 inches tall, with deep purple-blue flowers. Like all lavenders, it is fragrant, attracts butterflies and will repel insects.

Lavandula angustifolia “SuperBlue”: According to Monrovia Nurseries, this variety has “fragrant wands of rich lavender-blue flowers that deliver a soothing scent in early and midsummer. ‘SuperBlue’ is perfect for borders or containers with neat, compact foliage. It has good rain and weather tolerance. The large, full blooms are excellent for cutting and drying.” It grows to 12- to 20-inches tall.

Lavandula stoechas “Wings of Night”: This is a Spanish variety that forms an erect, dense shrub 2- to 3-feet tall with narrow blue-gray leaves. It blooms through spring and summer with short clusters of lavender flowers, each topped by a crown of showy purple bracts (the bracts look like small butterflies perched on the end of the stock).

Here are a few more interesting facts about lavender from the Lavender Sense website: The ancient Greeks called Lavender “nardus,” and it was one of the holy herbs mentioned in the Bible in the “Song of Solomon.” Lavender derives its name from the Latin “lavare” meaning “to wash.”

The Romans used lavender to scent their baths, beds, clothes and even hair. The oil is extracted from the flowers and used as a disinfectant, an antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory and for aromatherapy. An infusion of lavender is claimed to soothe and heal insect bites, sunburns and small cuts, burns and inflammatory conditions and even acne, to name just a few.

Dried lavender flowers are used extensively for their fragrance, specifically as herbal fillers inside sachets to freshen linens, closets and drawers. Lavender can also deliver a floral, slightly sweet and elegant flavor to foods.

In addition to all these uses, lavender is just plain nice to have in your garden, and this is the perfect time to find your favorite varieties. Remember to plant them in a full sun, fast-draining area like a rockery — you can even mulch the soil with crushed gravel.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Summer pruning

Attend one of two free classes on how to prune in the summer at at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. Go to the 10 a.m. June 22 or the 11 a.m. June 23 class. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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