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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Make a fist sized bunch
Wire to fasten stems
Pinch bundle on wreath form with pliers
Keep arranging bundles on base
Finished! Add a wire hanger to the back and let dry flat
Add a wired moire ribbon bow to complete the dried wreath
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!
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.
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.
There are several pointers in keeping your lavender plants healthier and producing those beautiful aromatic wand-like flowers.
Hardy to zone 5, lavender’s worst enemy is wet-think poor drainage, high humidity, and frequent rains
No need to fertilize this plant; Think lean and mean!
Drought resistant yes! But don’t forget to water new transplants until rooted in
Make sure there is plenty of air circulation between plants so that moisture and dampness is not a problem
Apply mulch in areas where the ground freezes and thaws throughout the winter
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
Always, always plant in full sun
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.
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.