Home & Garden

Lovely lavender: Hardy, fragrant, pretty and edible

If you're in the market for an interesting and fragrant plant for your landscape that prefers poor, dry soil, hot summers and benign neglect, look no further than lavender.

For centuries the dried flowers and leaves have been prized as a fragrant freshener for linens, clothing and more.

In the Provence area of France it's a common culinary seasoning.

It's a favorite plant for the herb garden but only recently has it become popular in the Mid-Columbia as a landscaping plant.

The lavender family is diverse.

Some hug the ground, growing to a height of 6 to 8 inches.

Others become bushes, growing upward and outward to 3 to 4 feet.

And there are dozens of various heights in between.

If you're looking for a specific lavender -- a certain size, a certain bloom color, one that's as good in the kitchen as well as the flower bed -- it's best to consult an expert. One of the best in the area is Robin Thomas in Waitsburg. She and her husband, Sherm, own Lavender's R-Us and cultivate more than 50 different lavenders plus one of the plant's cousins, rosemary.

"There are three different cultivators that do well here," she said.

Lavandula intermedia, evergreen lavenders, are the hardiest. They're the last to bloom, with flower spikes rising up 18 to 20 inches above the main plant.

"Their fragrance is pungent," Thomas said.

L. intermedia plants -- the Thomases raise nearly 20 varieties -- will bloom until the first heavy frost but their silvery foliage adds interest to the landscape throughout the winter.

Lavandula angustifola, small leafed lavenders, also called English lavenders, are the next hardy of those Thomas recommends.

"They put on a brilliant show of color the later part of June through July and will generally bloom again in the fall," Thomas said.

Lavandula stoecha is the least hardy but if you have a protected area it is well worth babying through the winter, she said.

They're the first to bloom beginning in mid-March on into June and will repeat the show in the fall if you cut off the old flower heads.

Choosing which lavender plants to buy is probably the hardest part of growing them, Thomas said.

"Put them in the worst place in your yard, the one with the poorest, driest soil. Lavender will take all the sun you can give it," she said.

A sandy soil's ideal but they can be grown in heavy clay if you add a good shovelful of soil to the planting hole, Thomas said.

The first year keep the new plants moist but not sopping.

"More lavenders die from over-watering than anything else. Once established, as a rule of thumb, give them a drink about once a week," she said.

Lavender also can be grown in containers for a year or two but after that find them a home where they can spread out their roots.

"Lavender doesn't like to be root-bound," she said.

Lavender is a long living plant -- most will produce blooms for more than a decade -- and resistant to disease and insect damage. They don't need a lot of attention.

"Give them a good haircut in the early spring. Shear them off by a good third or half, that'll protect your lavender plants from becoming woody and breaking down," Thomas said.

Get in on the lavender action at Waitsburg fair

Pick a bundle of lavender to take home, buy a plant or two so you'll have some to enjoy all year and learn how to use it to scent your home at the fifth annual Lavender Fair from June 28-29.

The fair, held at Lavender's-R-Us off Highway 12 in Waitsburg, will include products and crafts from four Mid-Columbia lavender growers.

Robin and Sherm Thomas, owners of Lavender's-R-Us, and the other growers will have a variety of lavender plants for sale. They'll also be teaching several make-and-take classes both days including lavender wands, wreaths and everlasting bouquets. There will be a modest fee for the classes.

For a $5 fee, you'll be able to pick and take home as much fresh lavender you'd like.

Several other arts and craft venders will attend the fair and there will be a variety of barbecued foods available for purchase.

Lavender's-R-Us is in Waitsburg, off Highway 12 -- look for the sign.

The gift shop and farm are regularly open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com.