Lavender (Lavandula) is a shrub or shrub-like perennial that can be grown as an annual. Its spikes of tiny flowers rise from a mound of fragrant silvery or gray-green foliage. The lemony sweet scent of lavender is often used in perfumes, lotions and soaps. It is a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family.
Lavender forms large clumps and generally blooms in mid-summer. Additional flushes of bloom continue into autumn, especially if the clump is pruned after the first blooms fade. Though considered a perennial or an herb by many gardeners, lavender is actually a shrub. It has a woody base and soft shoots. The sweet fragrance of its foliage perfumes the air on warm days.
Lavender comes in many varieties. English or common lavender (Lavendula augustifolia) is native to the dry rocky slopes of the Mediterranean and blooms in pink, purple, lavender or white. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 5 through 9, it thrives in heat and full sun. Common lavender grows 2 to 3 feet tall . Lower-growing varieties include Hidcote and Munstead., which reach about 1 foot tall. Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is hardy only in zones 8 and 9. It is grown elsewhere as an annual. Its spikes bear purple petal-like bracts.
Lavender thrives in full sun, especially when planted on a south-facing, sloping site with good air circulation. Well-drained soil is needed for this shrub. Lavender won't tolerate wet soil. Once established, lavender is low maintenance and even grows in rocky soil. Plant in spring or early fall. Watering is required only during times of drought. Prune annually for maximum flowering.
Lavender is used in herb, perennial and rock gardens and as an ornamental hedge. When grown as an annual, it is often planted in containers or window boxes. Its fragrant spikes can be dried and used as sachet, potpourri or in flower arrangements. This sweet herb is also used in cooking, baking, honey and tea. In aromatherapy, the scent of lavender is thought to relieve stress.
- ''Taylor's Guide to Growing North America's Favorite Plants''; Barbara W. Ellis; 1998
- ''All About Perennials''; Meredith Books; 2007
- ''The Book of Outdoor Gardening''; Smith & Hawken; 1996
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