Lavender or lavendula is a very hardy evergreen aromatic shrub which is grown for its scent as well as its flowers.
There are many species to choose from as the genus Lavandula has more than 30 known members. The family to which the they belong is Lamiaceae. The Lamiaceae is a huge family is well known for its aromatic volatile oils and includes plants like the Rosemary, thyme, oregano and mint. It is in fact these oils which makes the plants in the mint family so useful as medicinal and culinary plants.
English or French Lavender
The so called English version can live up to 25 years whereas the less hardy French or Spanish lavender will only live to around 5 years old. The fatter flowers of the Spanish and French varieties tend to be a little more flamboyant.
Where does Lavender come from?
The lavender grows naturally around the Mediterranean and was taken to Britain by the Romans. The Roman legions and their Greek doctors took medicinal herbs with them on their marches.
What is the origin of the name?
There are two possibilities for the origin of the name “Lavender”. Possibly it comes from the Latin “lavare” meaning to wash. It has been used since before Roman times as a bath perfume and to scent washed fabrics. The other possibility for the source of the name is the Latin “lividus” meaning blueish or livid.
Landscaping Melbourne with Lavender
This is an ideal plant for creating the authentic Mediterranean garden. It will also thrive in sunny locations in your Melbourne garden provided the soil is well draining and not too acidic.
Growing Lavender in pots
If you do not have enough sun, you can plant them in a terracotta pot and move them to get some extra sun. The blue and violet flowers of the lavender will be complimentary to the rich earthy colours of the terracotta.
Where is it best to plant lavender?
Lavender plants thrive in full sun and can grow well in raised garden beds and containers. They can even be used in hedges and make a great herbaceous border along a garden path.
How do you take care of a lavender plant?
- Cut back the flowers as they finish.
- Do not be afraid to prune twice a year with one pruning after flowering has finished.
- Lavenders that are not pruned regularly will become spindly.
- Replace plants that have become too woody.
- Do not over water.
- Very little fertiliser is required.
- Soil must be well drained to avoid root rot.
- Annual light application of garden lime in acidic topsoils.
Potential Diseases and Pests
Grey mould or leaf spot can appear. Prune your plants to allow good air circulation and move plants to a sunnier location in the garden. Plants can also be attacked by frog hoppers, so look for signs of frothy “cuckoo spit”.
Varieties for essential oils
Old English Lavender (Lavandula spica) is often grown on farms for the harvesting of the fragrant essential oils. This is a tall variety that can grow to around 90 centimeters, so it will need plenty of space.
Lavendula Augustifolia (English Lavender)
Despite being known as English, this plant originates in Southern Europe near the Mediterranean. It is a bushy shrub to around one metre tall and quite wide. In mid to late summer the long unbranched stalks will produce deep or pale purple dense fragrant spikes of flowers.
Popular varieties and Colours
These plants are often grown on farms where the plants are harvested to make essential oils. Often the distillation process takes place on the farm itself. The farms are also a great tourist attraction drawing visitors to experience the aroma and the beautiful sea of purple that stretches into the distance.
Visiting the farms
Lavendula Swiss Italian Farm is around 120 north-west of Melbourne and has over 40 Hectares of lavender farm to explore.
In the UK there is a farm just near the National Trust property of Snowshill in the Cotswolds Area on Natural Beauty, where many of these photos were taken.
Landscaping with Lavender
The hardy and versatile lavender has hundreds of uses in landscaping and garden design. As a border it can give the violet or blue design theme continuity through a landscape. When used as a border opposite a long blue swimming pool it provides visual balance to the garden.
Agricultural uses for lavender
In agriculture lavender also has a wide varieties of uses. Home gardeners can learn a few tips from these. Some varieties are grown for the cut flower industry for fresh and dried bouquets.The flowers of these plants are very high in nectar and many varieties have a long flowering season. This has made them a great plant for attracting and feeding bees. The quality and the quantity of honey produced from hives close to lavender plants is well known in the industry. Attracting bees is important too for the orchard industry. Lavender is a useful companion plant as the aroma repels some pests as well as attracting pollinating insects. The main agricultural use is essential oil manufacturing.
Essential Oil Distillation
To make the essential oil on the farm, the cuttings have steam passed through them. The steam collects the oil and takes it to the condenser. The oil steam mix condenses and is them separated into the pure oil and floral water.
Uses of the essential oil
The essential oil has a wide variety of uses including helping with sleep and anxiety. It also has been used to treat fungal infections and to repel insects. The main uses however are in the cosmetics industry where it is used in fragrances, soaps and shampoos to help purify the skin. It is also used in the food industry, but concentrated oil should never be ingested as it can be toxic in this form.
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