Looking at the garden on my return from holiday the first big job I need to tackle is to prune my lavender bushes. I have a quite a lot of lavender and when I left in early July it was all looking lovely. On my return its season is now largely over and the flowers are looking rather faded and brown.
I prepared and published this post about caring for lavender last summer, so with a few updates I am republishing it today just to remind you about this important annual task.
Lavender is one of my favourite summer plants, adding a scented mediterranean feel to my garden for many weeks in the summer and acting as a magnet to bees, butterflies and moths. The majority of my lavender is the hardy english variety and I mainly grow the dwarf lavandula angustifolia Hidcote and Munstead. Following on from the allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and flowering alongside a variety of catmints and salvias, lavender keeps the purple notes flowing throughout my garden until towards the end of July. If pruned correctly it looks good all year and in winter I value its soft grey evergreen hummocks that give structure to otherwise empty beds.
The question is how best to look after lavender? All too often it ends up as a leggy mess with masses of dead wood and a few scraggy flowers.
The key to keeping lavender plants young and fresh looking is to cut back the flower stems every August after the colour has faded. I cut back very lightly into the new leaf growth, shaping the plants as I go. On a large plant I will use my topiary shears, but on smaller plants I find secateurs are easier and more accurate. It is important not to cut back into dead wood as it will not regrow. Also it is better to get the job done in August or early September so that new regrowth has time to harden off before the first frosts. Pruning can be left until spring, but often snow or very wet weather will permanently damage the shape of unpruned bushes.
That’s it – the lavender care is then done for the year. Although in previous years I have avoided feeding lavender this year I am going to try adding a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone as I prune to encourage strong regrowth. With the pruning done next summer the hummocks will be full of lovely purple flowers again.
I will often underplant lavender bushes with tulips or alliums to extend the season of interest and I have also used lavender under my espaliered fruit trees to provide colour in the summer.
To keep my lavender hedges looking good and increase stocks of lavender in the garden, I buy a batch of tiny plug plants every spring to make sure that I can replace any losses and keep expanding my collection. Mature lavender plants are quite expensive, so this is a very cost effective way of increasing my stocks.
I know that I should be taking my own cuttings in summer from non flowering shoots and growing these on through the winter in a frost free place for free plants next year. My time in such a big garden is quite limited however and cuttings need regular watering and potting on. It is easier to have them arrive as little rooted plants in March and grow them on ready to plant out later in the summer. When the plugs have grown into small plants (usually by mid June) and after filling in any gaps in other lavender borders, I choose a sunny spot that is not water logged in winter and plant them out. After an initial watering lavender plants will grow on unattended and usually flower in their first season.
French lavender I treat slightly differently. French lavender is instantly recognisable by the butterfly like petals on the flowers and is not as hardy as English lavender. The only time I have successfully grown French lavender in a flower bed was when we were living in London. In Suffolk it always rots over the winter, so I restrict it to pots these days and store the pots in a very sheltered spot during the winter months. The pots need regular watering throughout the summer, but must not get water logged.
French Lavender has a longer flowering season than the English and will keep going for most of the summer if you regularly snip off the dying flower heads, making it ideal for containers. As it is relatively drought resistant these pots stand up well to holiday absences. Once it stops flowering I treat it in the same way as the English lavender and cut back into the green growth, shaping the plant as I go.
There are plenty of recipes that make use of lavender, but I am not a fan of it in food. I do love using lavender in flower arrangements and particularly like to mass it in a jar on its own or to tie a few sprigs with a lovely ribbon to napkins for a summer lunch. I had planned to make a lavender wreath for the front gate this year, but our holiday got in the way. I have come home with a beautiful new notebook for my blogging plans, so I will make a note for next July to make and photograph some lavender projects to share with you.
Please let me know how you feel about me reposting old pieces. This is the first time I have done this and on one hand it feels like a bit of a cheat, but on the other it seems a timely reminder of an important job that needs doing in August.