an aromatic herb

with a clean, calming scent

by Bridget Geegan Blanton

A recent visit to a local lavender farm was a completely sensory experience for me. Steps away from my parked car, I was greeted by manicured row upon row of lavender in full bloom. The calming, familiar scent perfumed the air and I soon forgot the twists and turns of the long drive that brought me there.

As I walked along the bark-strewn pathway, the scent of lavender was like a calming elixir on my road weary perspective. I inhaled deeply and tension flowed out. There is a very mystical aspect to lavender. It appeals to something very deep within me. If I had to choose a favorite herb, it would be lavender.

I will confess right here and now that in my breakfast nook, there are several pieces of lavender inspired d├ęcor. Not only do I adore the clean aromatic scent of this mediterranean plant but, I find the stalks of purple blossoms very aesthetically pleasing. There's everything to love about this herb. I always respond to the sight of tied bundles of lavender by inhaling their fragrance and appreciating the simple beauty of this long practiced herb drying method.

Have you ever seen fresh bundles of lavender? The color and the fragrance is as intense as it is beautiful. I had nothing but admiration for the purveyors of lavender upon whose farm I was about to spend a few precious hours.

The spot chosen for this California lavender farm, was an inland microclimate that provided the dry soil that the plants need and the abundant sunshine under which this herb thrives. The lay-out of the various lavender beds rose and fell along gentle hills that offered glimpses of brilliant purple at every turn.

I pulled out my camera and began taking gallery quality portraits of lavender and I possess zero photographic talent. The uniform size of the plants coupled with equal spacing between each bush created a pleasing photographic subject. Plants are maintained at a specific height for purposes of harvest on a lavender farm, as it is conducive to an efficient harvesting process because it must be completed before all of the blossoms have opened.

In addition, pruning lavender forces new growth and lengthens the life of the plant. The spacing between the base of each plant allows for air circulation, which cuts down on the likelihood of fungus problems and allows ease for the purposes of weeding. The design of the carefully crafted lavender beds, are for reasons of form and function, but to me they were simply beautiful.

Lavender is considered a drought tolerant plant and is a favorite among gardeners of the southwest. The clean, tall, slim lines of the blooming spikes add intrigue and color in a drought tolerant garden. The gray blue leaves although not equal in fragrance to the blossoms, are a striking contrast to the stalks of purple blossoms in landscape design. If at all possible, purchase 2-inch pots of lavender from a lavender farm.

Online purchase is available and delivery is carefully arranged for an expedient arrival. Prior to their arrival, you can amend the soil if necessary. Choose a spot in your garden where the lavender will receive 5 - 6 hours of full sunlight daily. Plant lavender in a well-draining soil that is slightly alkaline. Mixing in a fistful of bone meal with the soil will do much to bring it up to the proper level of alkalinity.

Many commercial growers will add a layer of sand once the plant is in the ground to reflect heat back up into the plant. It also keeps the area immediately surrounding the plant, clean. When all of the other plants wilt in the mid-day heat, the drought tolerant lavender is at its best.

Let the plant dry out a bit between watering, but keep your eye on young plants, they will require a little more attention in the beginning. The plant will let you know if you're watering too often. Over watering is evidenced by increased foilage, a tendency towards sprawling and fungus growth.

Among the types of lavender available to gardeners, most common among them are: Provence, Grosso, Fred Boutin, Dutch Mill and the English varieties.

Before you purchase a plant, be aware of the limitations of your garden and choose according to size, or color for matters of landscape design. Harvesting should be done early in the morning, just after the dew has evaporated for at that time the fragrance of the blossoms is the most intense.

Clip the stalk close to the base of the plant and schedule time to harvest before all of the blossoms have opened. Tie the bundle of fresh lavender and hang it to dry where there is plenty of air circulation.

The lavender industry is thriving and the dried blossom is actually quite in vogue at the moment as a culinary seasoning. More traditional products such as sachets, bath salts, candles and essential oil, provide us with the lavender scent that is as treasured in modern times for its aromatherapeutic properties as it was by our great-great grandmothers.

As I leave you with your plans to add lavender to your own home garden let me add, that a visit to a lavender farm must be added to your wish list. You'll thank yourself, I promise.

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