Lavender Harvest

White and purple lavender in field

Collecting and Drying the Harvest

Anticipating a bumper crop of fragrant lavender this year after planting more than 30 ‘Phenomenal’ plants in the spring of 2015, I was ready. Ready with lots of purple chiffon bags for sachets, wreath wire forms, and hanging space for the dozens of hand-gathered bundles removed from a thriving hedgerow of lavender plants. And ready with some new ideas of what to try with my sweet-smelling harvest. See Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter and  Lavender Honey Ice Cream posts for previous articles. The Lavender Honey Ice Cream is sublime!

White lavender is a great plant too

Just as the small purple flowers are opening, I get myself ready for the harvest. Using my sharpest shears, I cut right above the woody part of the plant. This action also prunes it, making the plant neat and tidy looking for the next harvest.

Gathering the harvest is a delightfully aromatic job with lots of bumbles and honeybees still attached. Not likely to sting, I gently brush the bees off while cutting, bunching, and stacking bundles. Gathering in the early evening, bumblebees tend to congregate and sleep on the flower wands, but the heat of midday is too hot for me to handle. I will take the bees anytime!

Cody loves lavender!

Taking about three years to reach full maturity, I can now cut about six to eight bunches per plant. Every year a few plants bite the dust and I fill in the holes with young transplants.

Half of my hedge is cut and you can see the one year old plants filling in

One bunch of lavender stalks fill your hand comfortably and I rubber band the bundle tightly. As the stalks dry they shrink and the rubber band shrinks with it. The band becomes a convenient holder to snag an opened paper clip which I attach to a braided rope hanging from my basement ceiling.

Hang up the bunches in a cool dark place like a basement

Look for a cool dark spot to dry your bunches to retain the best fragrance and color. Any bits and pieces of lavender stalks, I keep to use on the grill or fire pit for aromatic smoke.

Adding lavender bits and pieces to the grill gives food a wonderful taste

 

Wreath Step By Step

Making a lavender wreath takes lots of flower stalks but this year, I had plenty. Gathering a large basket of cut stalks all facing one way is your first step. Using plenty of lavender  to start with will ensure that as the wreath shrinks as it dries, it will still look full.

Creating smaller and shorter bunches for a wreath (about six to seven inches long) and wiring the bunches together makes it possible to create a beautiful fragrant wreath to hang in the house. Start with a 10 inch pinch clamp wire wreath base for a quick and easy method to make your garland. The only other supply you need is some thin wire to wind around the bunches. Your house will remain very fragrant for days after you create this beautiful circlet.

Gather supplies

Gather a large basket of cut flowers along with a wire wreath base and thin wire

Make a fist sized bunch

Bunch a small cluster of flower stalks about 6-7 inches long for a fresh lavender wreath

Wire to fasten stems

Wire the bunch together

Pinch bundle on wreath form with pliers

With pliers pinch the bunch firmly to the base

Keep arranging bundles on base

Continue overlapping each lavender bunch facing one way all around the wreath

Finished! Add a wire hanger to the back and let dry flat

Finished! Continue to dry flat until completely dry (1 week) and then hang

Add a wired moire ribbon bow to complete the dried wreath

Adding a bow to the finished product

 

Dried Flowers 101

After each growing season in my garden, I assess what I grew, making up a wish list of new things to grow for next year. Planning what new varieties to try is half the fun of gardening! But this time I am going back to growing some old varieties that have fallen out of fashion that I haven’t grown for years, and these include everlastings or dried flowers.

Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
A larger variety of Sea Holly
A larger variety of Sea Holly

Air drying flowers or everlastings is simple and a great way to preserve your flower harvest for months to come. Knowing the correct varieties that dry well is key to successfully drying your blooms. I have dried flowers on and off for years; this was in vogue in the 70’s and 80’s and I have noticed a resurgence of interest, but people aren’t sure about which flowers are suitable.

A small colorful dried arrangement
A small colorful dried arrangement

After a recent visit to Priorwood Gardens in Scotland which is known for their dried flower culture and gardens, I was inspired to try this old craft again. Priorwood is a specialist center for the craft of dried flower arranging and has a dedicated drying room.

Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has dried flowers from their gardens for centuries
Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has had dried flowers from their gardens for centuries

A delightful historic walled garden in the Scottish Borders in Melrose, Priorwood is a rustic walled garden where the plants grown are selected for their suitability for drying.  Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, Priorwood is a delight to visit to learn about drying varieties and methods.

The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
Priorwood Gardens entrance
Priorwood Gardens entrance

Brimming with old-fashioned flowers such as Strawflowers, Teasels, Cardoon, Ammobium, Statice, Love in a Mist, Pearly Everlasting, and Yarrow, I walked the pathways identifying the ones that I recognized.

A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink

If you are an Outlander fan, I visited Claire’s herb garden in Culross, Scotland where many drieds and herbs are grown also. In the Outlander show Claire walks the pathways gathering medicinal herbs for preserving in her medical practice in 18th century Scotland. Most flowers are fleeting but preserving them by drying extends the beauty and usefulness of them.

Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire's Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire’s Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Claire's Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Claire’s Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Culross Palace gardens where scenes from Outlander were filmed
Culross Palace gardens
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Poppy seed heads dry nicely
Poppy seed heads dry perfectly

 

Dried flower arrangements last for months
Dried flower arrangements last for months

Steps to Perfect Dried Flowers

  1. Choose flowers that are not completely open as they will continue to open through the drying process.

  2. Cut flowers in the morning, after the dew has dried using sharp sheers.

  3. Strip off all foliage.

  4. Group flowers into small bundles and gather together with rubber bands. This allows the rubber band to contract and not lose its grip as the stems shrink.

  5. Hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry, indoor spot where air can circulate.

  6. When flowers are done drying, they will feel dry and stiff to the touch. This may take several days or several weeks, depending on conditions and the type of flowers.

    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Claire's Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Claire’s Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Strawflower
    Strawflower
    p1100173
    Strawflower
    p1100177
    Strawflower

     

    Everlastings to grow for drying

    • Sea Holly(Eryngium ) – perennial

    • Winged Everlasting (Ammobium alatum) – annual

    • Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) – perennial (seed pods)

    • Artemesia – perennial

    • Hydrangea- perennial

    • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) – annual or perennial

    • Sweet Annie (Artemesia annua) – perennial

    • Cockscomb (Celosia cristata) – annual

    • Bells-Of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) – annual

    • Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) – annual (primarily the seed pods)

    • Money Plant or Honesty (Lunaria annua) – biennial

    • Yarrow(Achillea spp.) – perennial – perennial

    • Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) – annual

    • Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) – annual; go to Plant Geek Alert

    • Statice(Limonium spp.) – perennial and annual

    • Bachelor’s Buttons or Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – annual

    • Lavender (Lavandula spp.) – perennial

    • Roses (Rosa spp.) – perennial/shrub, flowers and hips (fruit)

    • Peony-perennial

    • Tansy-perennial

      Bachelors buttons
      Bachelors Buttons

      nigella
      Nigella or Love in the mist is grown for its seed pods

      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry

Lavender Honey-Scented Body Butter

Finished body butter ready to use

In the dry air of winter, I go through a lot of “body butter”.And what better way to put to use the beeswax and honey that I gathered from the hive last summer? I bought body butter from Burt’s Bees at $15 for a small tub and it was adding up. I like to apply it all over my body after I shower and the butter goes on smoothly and sinks right into your skin and really hydrates. Updating on one of my older posts at Luscious Honey-Scented Body Butter, I find that this has become one of my most popular posts of all time. For other uses of beeswax, go to Honeybee Gift-Beeswax or Orange Citrus Soap With Beeswax.

body butter

BODY BUTTER

After going through some recipes on-line and experimenting with several, I came up with one that works great and costs about half of what I was paying Burt’s Bees. Plus, I made a dent in all of my horded beeswax. The whole process is so easy, I don’t know why I was spending all that money before. The butter is a little thicker than others that I have tried because of the addition of beeswax but it still feels light and creamy.

First of all, gather your ingredients.

Healthy Ingredients

Beeswax: Forms a light coating on the skin helping to hold in moisture. If you don’t have your own hives, contact a local beekeeper to buy some. Available on-line also, and you can buy beeswax already grated which is easier to use.

Raw Unpasteurized Honey: Adds moisture to the skin and helps lock it in, while providing protective benefits. Find a local beekeeper.

Coconut Oil: Naturally rich in proteins which help keep the skin rejuvenated. Coconut oil is becoming ubiquitous in the stores and I am finding more and more uses for it.

Shea Butter: Vitamins, minerals and fatty acids moisturize and revitalize dry skin.

Sweet Almond Oil: Softens and hydrates skin.

Essential Oil: Adds aromatherapy benefits and supports healthy skin. I used lavender oil, but the possibilities are endless-bergamot, lemon, scented geranium, orange, peppermint. I especially like the flavor of lavender and honey and have used this combo in Lavender Honey Ice Cream.

Ingredients for body butter

I shopped for my oils at MOM’s Organic market.  You could try Whole Foods or online. I used 1 Cup of Shea Butter, 1/2 cup of Coconut Oil, 1/2 cup of Sweet Almond Oil, two teaspoons of honey and at least a dozen drops of lavender essential oil. If you can’t find Almond Oil, you could substitute olive, jojoba, or any other liquid oil. Beeswax is hard to measure, so I just broke off a hunk from my stash and chopped it up into smaller pieces.  The beeswax keeps the butter from becoming too soft and scents the body butter with honey. Here is the recipe:

Honey Scented Body Butter

1 C Shea Butter

1/2 C Coconut Oil, which is solid at room temperature

1/2 C Sweet Almond Oil

3-4 ounces Beeswax, broken up into small pieces

Dozen drops of Lavender essential oil

1 T of Honey

Melt the Shea Butter, Coconut Oil, and Beeswax in the top of a double boiler until all lumps melt.

Melting the oils
Melting the oils at a low temperature

The Beeswax has the highest melting temperature, so will be the last to melt. Beeswax has honey deposited in it so you get the fragrance of the honey from your added beeswax, as well as the added liquid honey added at the end.

Beeswax chunks are the last to melt

Remove from the heat and add the Sweet Almond Oil and the vitamin E drops and stir

Remove from heat, letting cool slightly, and add the Sweet Almond Oil. Place the whole thing into the refrigerator until the mixtures turns almost hard and opaque. This could be 15 minutes or less. If you let it harden too much, just return to the heat to melt the mixture again. You want it soft enough to whip, but not too hard that the mixture will form lumps. Creamy smooth is the key, not hard and solid.

Place the mixture into the refrigerator to solidify

While in the refrigerator, the mixture will turn opaque and become very thick.

The mixture after chilling looks like icing

Bring the mixture out, adding the honey and the lavender oil and whip it with a mixer or immersion blender until thoroughly mixed. The more air incorporated, the lighter the mixture.

Scrape into containers. I used an old Burt’s bees container and some small mason jars.

Adding honey and lavender oil
Adding honey and lavender oil
Scooping out the butter into containers It is the perfect consistency!

With this recipe, I made about 3 1/2 cups of body butter that cost about $25 for materials.  I was spending $15 for a 6.75 ounce container from Burt’s Bees. After some calculation, I figured that if I bought 3 1/2 cups of body butter from Burt’s Bees, it would have cost me twice as much. Plus, I knew exactly what went into it.

Enough body butter to slather on for months

 

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

 

Lavender honey ice cream
Lavender honey ice cream

In experimenting with edible flowers, I came across a great recipe which I have tried several times and disappeared quickly in my household. It is really delicious and the best ice cream I have ever had! Lavender is an unlikely candidate for flavoring ice cream but it works. Go to Edible Flower Palette  and Eat Your Flowers!  to see more uses for edible flowers.

Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender

Lavender has just gotten easier to grow with the new variety, Phenomenal. Go to Lavender Fields Forever-Phenomenal!  to see how to grow this wonderfully fragrant herb. I used the honey from my hives for this, but you can use any mild flavored honey in this recipe, like clover or wildflower.

Lavender ice cream tops peach cake
Lavender ice cream tops peach cake

Lavender Honey Ice Cream

2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 Cup half and half

2/3 cup honey

2 Tablespoons dried edible lavender flowers

2 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Bring cream, half and half, honey and lavender just to a boil in a 2 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Then remove pan from heat. Let steep for 30 minutes.

Pour cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard lavender. Return mixture to cleaned saucepan and heat over moderate heat until hot, not boiling.

Whisk together eggs and salt in a large bowl, then add 1 cup of the hot cream mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Pour into remaining hot cream mixture in saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly. When mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon and registers 170 to 175 degrees on a thermometer, about 5 minutes (do not let boil), take off heat.

Pour custard into clean bowl and cool completely, stirring occasionally. Chill, covered at least 3 hours.

Freeze in a ice cream maker and keep in freezer for several hours to harden.

Serve on top on peach cake for a great summer treat. Enjoy!

Lavender honey ice cream
Lavender honey ice cream

Lavender Fields Forever-Phenomenal!

 

Photographing lavender fields at Westwind Farm Studio in Portland, Oregon Photo courtesy of: Helen Battersby Toronto Gardens http://www.torontogardens.com – 2013 Canadian WebLog Award-Winner, Gardening (2nd) – One of SweetSpot’s Top 10 Canadian garden blogs

 It is a given that most gardeners want to grow lavender for its romance,  beauty, and scent. Unfortunately a lot of people get frustrated with the plant when it dies after a season or two. The main culprit that will kill a lavender plant is heat and humidity. But there is one variety that has been developed that will tolerate and thrive under those conditions – Phenomenal!

 

Happy to pick lavender
Happy to pick Phenomenal lavender!

Phenomenal Lavender

Phenomenal Lavender has hit the market by storm and I have grown it it now for two years. Supposedly more forgiving of heat and humidity which hits me hard in Maryland, this plant was chosen from thousands of lavenders for its amazing performance and resistance to root and foliar problems that tend to hit other lavenders. Patented by Lloyd and Candy Traven of Peacetree Farm, a wholesale greenhouse, Phenomenal is a great new introduction. A high oil content makes this plant an asset in the kitchen and bath. There is even a Facebook page for this variety! It was also named a ‘Must-Grow Perennial’ for 2013 by Better Homes & Gardens. Phenomenal sailed through our record-breaking winter temperatures for me without a hitch.

Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender
Fresh cut Phenomenal lavender

Growing Lavenders

Keep in mind that lavender is native to Mediterranean climates with a dry, rocky, and sunny climate, and you will get some clues on how to treat this versatile perennial. I visited a lavender farm in Oregon and saw beautiful fields of different varieties being grown side by side.

White and purple lavender side by side
White and purple lavender side by side

There are several pointers in keeping your lavender plants healthier and producing those beautiful aromatic wand-like flowers.

  1. Hardy to zone 5, lavender’s worst enemy is wet-think poor drainage, high humidity, and frequent rains

  2. No need to fertilize this plant; Think lean and mean!

  3. Drought resistant yes! But don’t forget to water new transplants until rooted in

  4. Make sure there is plenty of air circulation between plants so that moisture and dampness is not a problem

  5. Apply mulch in areas where the ground freezes and thaws throughout the winter

  6. In spring, a little pruning is in order; Cut back a third of the plant for better form when you see new green growth at the base of the plant

  7. Always, always plant in full sun

White lavender is beautiful but doesn't have the same intense scent as blue lavender
White lavender is beautiful but doesn’t have the same intense scent as purple lavender

 

 Besides being beautiful and aromatic, lavender flowers are also edible. They can be used raw in salads, added to soups and stews, used as a seasoning, baked into cookies and brewed into tea. See my post on Edible Flower Palette  for more ideas on edible flowers.

Pollination Powerhouse

Lavender is one of the top ten flowers for honeybees and other bees. Lavender honey is sublime! Here is a video of the buzzing bees that constantly cover this plant. See my post on Plant These For The Bees on other flowers that bees love.