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Lovely Lavender

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Lovely Lavender

If I could have only one plant in my yard, I would choose lavender. This wonderful bush came into my life when we purchased a home with a front flowerbed of perennials and two gray-green shrubs. It wasn't until June, when the bushes sprang into full glorious purple bloom, that I recognized the plants.

There was no mistaking their identity. One whiff of the subtle fragrance, and I was whisked back to my childhood and memories of a favorite "auntie" to whom we always gave Yardley's English Lavender toiletries. That first spring I cut the flowers, dried them, tied them in bunches, laid them in the linen closets, tucked them in dry flower arrangements and scattered sprigs everywhere I could. As I worked with my lavender plants, I discovered the foliage of the shrub is as fragrant as the flower. A gentle shake or a fond pet of the plant releases the fragrance from early spring to frost.

Several years later, I ordered half a dozen more lavender plants. I was disappointed when I opened the package and discovered tiny starts with a bit of dirt, each wrapped in plastic. They were smaller than tomato bedding plants and looked only half-alive. I thought it would be years before they flowered, if they lived at all. The following spring, however, the plants recuperated from winter and thrived through the hot summer. The second year, they bloomed in the spring and were well on their way to maturity.

Lavender plants are sun loving and need well-drained soil. They can be planted almost any time, and even started indoors from seed. Plants may succumb to old age after ten years but are cheaply replaced.

Once I started searching, I was amazed at the different types available. One species, English lavender, has over forty named varieties. The blooms range from lavender-hued gray to a vibrant royal purple. There are also species with blooms in other colors: white, pink, and a yellow-green. The flowers themselves are small, sometimes bud-like but open and full on others, and they grow up the spiky stems. Foliage typically ranges from dusty green to silvery gray and a few species have bright chartreuse leaves.

Some lavender hugs the ground with a height of only six inches. Others become bushes more than four feet in height. There is a size to fit almost any landscaping need. If you're selecting lavender plants for a specific garden design, familiarize yourself with the many species and varieties and consult an expert if in doubt.

Lavender requires very little care unless you want a formal, sheared and shaped plant. Only my very old ones, the two that were in the front yard's meandering bed, have ever required any major clipping. The debris from the clip job went into a basket to be added to the woodstove - another way to enjoy the sweet summer smell of lavender during the dead of winter.

QUICK-MAKE BATH BAG Use an old handkerchief or piece of thin cotton fabric, six to eight inches square. Place a fourth cup of dried lavender blooms in the center, gather the corners together and secure the bundle with a piece of twelve-inch ribbon, tie it in a knot. Tie the very ends of the ribbon together in bow or knot, to form a loop by which to hang the bag. Slip this over the bathtub faucet positioned so the water will run through it as the tub fills. It may be used for several baths, the lavender should then be replaced.

LAVENDER COOKIES

These cookies are probably better classified as shortbread.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp. dried lavender flowers
1 cup self-rising flour

Cream butter and sugar; add egg. Mix in lavender and flour. Place small heaps on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes or till golden brown in color.

The lavender can be grown in a variety of North American climates. Time of bloom will depend on geographic location, type of lavender and current weather phenomena. In the mid-Atlantic region, where I live, it is possible to have plants in bloom from June until late September. They thrive in our hottest and most drought-ridden summers without watering, and live through our occasional harsh and icy winters. In a moderate Mediterranean climate such as San Francisco, it would be possible to have lavender in bloom every day of the year.

In the north, where winters are longer and more severe, lavender can be placed in pots and moved to a porch or other sheltered spot during the colder season. In the south, where summers last forever and it can be extremely hot, partial shade is recommended. Also, seek advice on specific varieties for your gardening zone.

If there is a sunny spot on the walkway to your house, that's an ideal place for a potted lavender or bush because its fragrance will surround you each time you arrive and leave. You'll get in the habit of running your fingers over its foliage to release the aroma as you pass. What could be better than a single plant that is decorative, aromatic and provides ingredients for many other projects?

When I am an old lady I shall have a lavender bush
and sprinkle the blooms upon my sheets
and under my pillow;
steep it into tea
and press its spikes among the pages of my books.

About the Author Sharon Tabor Warren is a freelance writer and tax professional who gardens in the foothills of the Blue Ridge - Amherst County, Virginia.
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