The Lavender Blues

It’s been a bountiful year for lavender.   I don’t remember ever seeing so many buds on my plants before – the bees are certainly rejoicing!  

Lavender

Lavender is an easy-care perennial, sun loving but can tolerate some shade, does well in drought and poor soil – exactly my kind of plant.  I have about twelve bushes but admit the ones in the shady back yard,

roses and lavender

are not as lush as the ones in the sunny facing front.  Lavender

I’ve grown lavender for years as the fragrant smell has always appealed to me.   It’s inexpensive at $5 a pot, and once established, it’s beauty can last for years.   I usually plant English lavender as it is the more cold-hardy species.  My few attempts at growing French lavender were not successful as it did not survive overwintering here in our Canadian climate.   I also prefer the sweeter English lavender smell, whereas the French has a sharper Rosemary-like scent.   French lavender has a longer bloom time and a darker purple flower.  Someone brought me back some from Provence once and while it was nothing at all like mine, it would still be lovely to see someday. 

Lavender field in France

(Colors of France photo)

These photos from my garden show the progression of color with the season, from the palest shade early on, 

roses and lavender

Lavender

Lavender

gradually darkening to a more vibrant purple. 

Lavender

In certain lights it can take on a blue tone,

Lavender

but the softer light of early evening really makes the purple color pop.   

Lavender

Usually by the end of July, the buds are dried out but there are always a few spears still growing in September.  Cutting them back is supposed to encourage a second flowering – I’ve never tried this but might this year as it is so abundant.   While some people like to harvest early for best fragrance and dry their lavender bundles upside down, I prefer to enjoy the beauty of the plant and and strip the dried buds off later.      

Lavender in a Blue Pot

If you don’t have a garden, a pot of lavender is a nice alternative.  

Lavender

Lavender has long been known for it’s calming fragrance.   Add a few drops of lavender oil to the bath water after a stressful day for instant relaxation.   

Lavender Spray

Lavender Pillow Spray

For sleep-inducing properties, use a lavender spray or tuck a lavender sachet under your pillow.   I often give sachets away as presents and one year my cute little 5 yr old neighbor insisted on taking one home for her shift-worker dad.   Lavender can also be used in cooking, adding a subtle fragrance to baked goods like cakes and cookies.   While I’ve never baked with it, I used to  drink a brand of lavender flavored Earl Gray tea before I gave up caffeine. 

Earl gray Lavender tea

One year I tried to make my own lavender oil, with disastrous results.  There were two methods suggested – the first extracting the oil with oil required  steeping the leaves and flowers in a crock of olive oil and repeatedly pressing, straining and adding more buds every 24-48 hrs, repeating the process 6 to 8 times.  The second method, solvent distillation, which involved extracting the oil with alcohol to make a tincture, sounded much easier.  They recommended ethyl alcohol, but if you couldn’t find it, vodka was acceptable (but not rubbing alcohol).   For a non-drinker like me this required a trip to the liquor store where I was surprised to find even the smallest bottle of vodka cost $20.   The lavender buds were soaked in the alcohol in a jar, in a process called maceration, meaning steep or rest, an old pharmaceutical term I remember from my school days, as in the extraction of a drug by allowing it to stand in contact with a solvent.   The jar was placed in a dark cupboard, with instructions to agitate it once a day.   I missed a week while I was away unexpectedly, but it just looked darker and murkier.  After several weeks (2-6 wks), you drained the liquid off by straining it through a cheesecloth filter and froze it in a suitable container.  The lavender oil was supposed to congeal on top of the alcohol, which does not freeze, and could then be scraped off and placed in a glass bottle.   I ended up with about 3 ml (half a teaspoon), of a strong lavender-like but somewhat foul smelling brown liquid, not enough to fill even half my dropper bottle, which eventually got thrown out during one of my cleaning binges.   My advice – drink the vodka instead and just buy a good quality essential oil.   Some products have fake lavender scents, but I’ve found this to be one of the better brands, and at $12 it’s reasonably priced.       

Lavender oil Now

Storing a lavender spray in the fridge to spritz on a hot summer day is a refreshing trick. 

Lavender mist spray

The calming scent of lavender soap can help you pause and relax while performing that all important frequent hand-washing activity. 

Lavender Soap

 It’s nice to scent your drawers with a lavender sachet.   Wedding favor bags from the party store are great for this purpose.  

Lavender sachets

Lavender sachets

I admit the lavender bushes aren’t quite as pretty when the season is over and they’re brown and dried out, but the smell is still lovely, especially after a summer rain.

Lavender harvest

My lavender is almost ready harvest.   With such a bumper crop this year I may have to hire help!   

Book of the Day:

The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected BlossomingThe Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming by Jeannie Ralston

Visiting a lavender farm has long been on my bucket list, preferably one in Provence but even here would do.  For those who dream of living such an idyllic life, a memoir of the reality by a New York city writer who moved to Texas with her National Geographic photographer husband to start a lavender farm.   I read this when it was first published in 2008 when I was interested in making scented products.   As I recall, they lasted about ten years, including time to get the plants established, before they gave up and moved to Mexico.   (Rating 3/5 stars.)        

Song of the Day:  (and Source of Blog Title)  Lavender’s Blue                      

This song is stuck in my brain after watching a Disney movie last week (2015 Kenneth Branagh version).   I always liked Lily James as Rose in Downton Abbey and she did a credible job  as Cinderella.   Okay, I wasn’t really watching it, but it was on TV while I was editing photos.   An old English nursery rhyme/folk song from the 17th century, it seems faintly familiar.

And last but not least, one of my mother’s paintings:

Pears & Lavender -AMc-Aug/17

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40 thoughts on “The Lavender Blues

  1. throughrosetintedglasses54 says:

    Ah lovely blog Joni. Your trip to buy vodka made me laught as Im only a very occasional drinker but decided to make sloe gin one year and was totally shocked at the price of the gin. There is something fun about trying to create for yourself rather than buy so I guess we still have a go. I love lavender bushes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I adore lavender and am jealous of how much you have growing. Well, maybe not jealous– more in awe. I have a plant in a large pot outside beside one of our stone paths. I like to ruffle the plant with my hand as I go by so that I can smell it. I’ve tried drying it upside down with so-so results, never the way you mention so I’ll give your way a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I like to ruffle the plant too. I guess I’ve always just stripped the buds off because I don’t have any place to hang that much. Lavender and roses are the two things that grow the best here in our clay soil – the rest is iffy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Anne says:

    Lavender is close to my heart: one of the few plants to survive in the drought conditions we have been experiencing for so long. In fact, I watered my lavender plants today for the first time in weeks because I really want them to survive! They look healthy and I am looking forward to them blooming. I have successfully grown lavender from slips too. Tea: I was given a packet of Kentish Earl Grey tea mixed with lavender blossoms and have been eking it out for it is deliciously refreshing – especially during the summer. I too laughed at your vodka buying trip. This has been a delightfully uplifting read and it is great to see your mother’s painting!

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    • Joni says:

      Thanks Anne! Everyone seems to like lavender and I’m glad to hear it cheered you up. I like the fact that it’s drought resistant too as I am lazy with watering, but I finally did after 2 weeks of no rain. The sky gets dark and stormy and then it seems to dissipate. I think the lavender did so well this year as it set in hot and humid early this year in late May, thus producing a bumper crop. Being a tea loer, I suspected you would have tried the tea already!

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  4. Linda Schaub says:

    It is a sea of purple, just as you said Joni. Well, I’d be sitting there on the deck taking in all that beauty with my eyes and smelling it with my nose as much as I could. Last year when I bought the tickets for the Sunflower Festival and Pumpkin Festival, I had been reading up on DeBucks Farm and they were talking about plans for a Lavender Festival. They showed all the truckloads of different types of lavender they had purchased. So I had that in mind to make a return to this farm this July. I looked on their Facebook page and they do have all the plants and you can walk out there – not going to attempt it again, since I got lost so badly and with COVID-19 and Michigan’s high stats. All the other places that have lavender festivals are far from me. I would like to see a field of lavender too – if we can’t get to France, we’ll have to have a Plan “B”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda! It’s more a sea of brown buds now, and I’m wondering how I’m going to harvest it all now with all these appointments going on. I plan on staying home next week, as I feel I’ve been out too much lately. You stay home too….I think there’s too much risk around…..but your parks are still okay. Don’t worry – we’ll get to France someday!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I had no idea it was that dark colored. When I walked down Emmons Boulevard,before discovering Council Point Park, there were some purple flowers that I believed were lavender, and they were not as full as your “crop” is. They were tall and kind of leaned over as they were so tall, not orderly looking like yours is. So I might have been wrong – didn’t go smell them as it was on a homeowners property. This was beautiful what you showed us. It will be nice once Monday is over with as it will rain and storm, but then good weather through next weekend. We have rain/storm Sunday afternoon but horribly hot again. The picture of the lavender in France was gorgeous. One day we will get there and enjoy a lavender festival Joni!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. annieasksyou says:

    The Lavender Blues was a real pick-me-upper from start to finish! Loved the progression photos and was so very impressed by your experimentation.. The results were less important (to me!) than the process.

    I did have the great good fortune of plunking myself in a. field of lavender outside an abbey in Provence a zillion years ago. It was wonderful! You may want to keep that on your bucket list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Annie! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think one of the gardening blogs I follow posted about an abbey in France that is famous for it’s lavender fields, so that is definitely on my bucket list someday.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Thanks Jo. You’re welcome to post a link here if you want? I think I remembered it because I was planning on doing a post on lavender sometime, and it was very peaceful. We don’t have any lavender farms here, within driving distance, but was it you who was going to visit a lavender farm nearby? I guess all those visits might be off this year….

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jo Shafer says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your post on lavender, Joni! I love lavender and grow a “bush” between each Grande Dame rose down the east lane. As you’ve shown in your pictures, roses and lavender make beautiful companions in the garden. Of course, I can always use more, here and there, although I do have plenty of cat mint (with similar long stems of blue/lavender flowers) and lemon balm (with hardly any bloom). What gave me the idea of a row of lavender was a scene in the documentary film, JOHN ADAMS, showing a long row of huge urns planted in huge lavender. What a wow factor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Jo! I’m going to check into those Grande Dame rose bushes. I have some lavender in between the rose bushes around the back deck, but need more…..because you can never have too much lavender!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Jo Shafer says:

    Yes, we do have a lavender farm nearby but nothing as luscious and luxurious as the French country ones. We’ve been out there many times, but now it’s only by appointment, if at all. Sadly.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. J P says:

    Thanks for an educational assist on lavender – you have increased my knowledge on the topic exponentially.

    It seems that your attempts at lavender oil mimic my tries at turning the black walnuts on my trees into something to eat. Except that your lavender is more colorful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Thanks for reading JP. Black walnuts are those nasty things I try to avoid when walking in my neighbourhood as they get all over your nice white running shoes, and once I opened one out of curiosity and it stained my fingers for days!

      Like

  9. oomhead says:

    I have a small hedge of Old English Lavender in our bee garden – because the bees like it and and so do I. We found a specialist nursery and planted several different types of but the only one which thrived was called Old English so that’s all we have left but it seems to like it in our soil and climate. We are in Shropshire UK.

    My father grew Lavender but it was allowed to grow tall, woody and straggly. As kids one of our games was to try to jump over it. Often we failed and ended up smelling strongly of it but the love of the smell stayed with me.

    Don’t you have to distill plant oils like lavender?

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    • Joni says:

      So you have authentic Shropshire UK old English Lavender! Yes I think distillation is the professional way to make essential oils – the other methods were for homemade use!

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  10. oomhead says:

    I had an idea you could get small, amateur versions of the professional distillation units. I looked into it once. Even so, I get the impression that you need an awful lot of material to get a tiny amount of oil so I think we’ll just keep ours for the bees.

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    • Joni says:

      Thanks, Denise. I did have fun with that post, and I love lavender too. However, it’s not so lovely now that the buds are brown, and I have to harvest it, but your landscaper might be able to advise you on a longer blooming variety. I hear you re the need for a garden plan – I wish I had done that instead of just sticking things in here and there. Good luck!

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  11. ruthsoaper says:

    Beautiful! My lavender did really well this year too. I cut some but left most of it for the bees. Last week I finished trimming back all the dead spikes so hopefully it will blossom again. My husband calls it the stinky stuff. He’s probably the only person I know who doesn’t like the smell. I read that book a few years ago. I agree 3/5.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’ve known a few people who don’t like the smell but I love it….I find it so calming. I can’t really remember much about the book, I read so much, other than it cured me of any dreams of having a lavender farm!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. 1kindness2day says:

    My favourite! I once had the privilege of visiting a lavender farm in Tasmania. It was an incredible experience to stand and just gaze at the never-ending rows of gorgeous blooms. Thank you for the informative post 💕

    Liked by 1 person

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