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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