I don’t think I have ever met anyone that doesn’t love Lavender. There are so many great things about these evergreen shrubs native to the Old world- from across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and across the Cape Verde and Canary Islands to Northern and Eastern Africa as well as some parts of Asia. From its delicious scent and hence its benefits in the aroma and beauty trade to its uses in the culinary world, as well as its medicinal properties-this shrub is true multi-tasker.
Lavender is one of 39 species from the genus Lamiaceae– meaning it actually belongs to the Mint family. There are many cultivated species of Lavender and many vary significantly in size and shape. Personally I am a big fan of the English Lavender, particularly the Lavandula x intermedia “Grosso’ variety which is a tall and elegant variety and works wonderfully planted en-masse. I have planted lots of these in a small circular herb garden I designed and they are so visual. Surrounding other perennial and evergreen herbs these lavender shrubs are great for using as a base plant and really show off other herbs such as the round balls of chives and the more lime green and lilac of the Oregano plants beside them.
Lavender, who’s name Lavender comes from from lavanda -meaning to wash, is a fascinating plant with a long history of medicinal uses. In World War I it was used in hospital as a cure for insomnia and to cleanse and even today it is often used in its essential oil form as a calming and sleep-inducing scent. Research also suggests that the herb is effective in treating numerous neurological diseases.
With regard to using Lavender in the kitchen it’s a love or hate affair! I have met as many people who adore lavender in cooking as those that hate it, making it a truly acquired taste. It actually has what chefs call an ‘androgynous’ flavour, making it easy to use in both with sweet and savoury dishes. The clue in cooking successfully with it is using it in moderation and in combination with other herbs so that your food does not end up tasting like a bowl of perfume. Personally I love it in savoury dishes such as strong beef stews with a hint of lavender and other herbs such as oregano and thyme and lamb with garlic and lavender is a strong combination. When it comes to sweet based foods then Macaroons such as the ones by Laduree are divine, a recipe where you really want the flavour and perfume of the plant to come though.
But I digress, back to growing this wonderful herb! Not everyone has the space to let the larger varieties shine ‘en masse’ so it is good to know that most Lavenders will do very well planted into containers for balconies, patios and smaller gardens. One variety that I find absolutely fascinating is the one pictured here in the lovely planter. The Lavandula ‘Sugarberry Ruffle’ is a stunning variety that has pretty purple flowers with beautiful and unusual ruffled flower crowns. The scent of this plant is also incredibly strong. Unlike the Lavender used for perfume such as Lavandula angustfolia, this variety has an almost clove like in its lavender scent. Slightly sweeter and yet with a hint of woody Eucalyptus.
As mentioned, Lavender plants are fantastic plants for containers and will do try well planted into a large pot such as the concrete style one pictured here. Together with the pom-pom Dahlia maxi and the spires of Nepeta and a few Cosmos scattered in, this is a long flowering and deliciously scented combination that will brighten up any space.
It is no wonder that with its colours and scent, Lavender plants are a big attraction for Butterflies. When the sun comes out and hits these plants, the whole space becomes a lavender scented haven so a great plant beside windows and patio doors. The plant also works really well as an informal hedge such as alongside a pathway. Trimming out should be done in April and never cut into old wood to avoid an unsightly shape.
plant source @woodies.ie
3 of my favourite Lavender varieties.
There are so many lavender varieties and each is special in its own right. There are a couple that I find myself using often. Here are a few of my favourites.
Lavandula angustofolia ‘Munstead’
Named after Munster Wood, Gertrude Jekyll’s garden, this lavender is also called English lavender and is wonderfully scented, making it beneficial in the perfume Industry. It is a perennial and is one of the best varieties for using in cooking and making perfume sachets. It has plenty of benefits one big that it is a natural herbicide, making it handy to repel mosquitos
Also known as Spanish or French Lavender, this lovely variety has the same ruffled heads as the ‘Sugarberry ruffle’ but has a more deeply purple colour. The stoechas is a dwarf variety and is a lovely compact shape so great for containers. The added plus is the strong, fresh scent.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Rosea’
this variety is so pretty combined with other purple lavenders. The pale pink flowers are stunning and the foliage is a lovely grey green. I love seeing it planted along pathways and this one works so well in modern gardens with plenty of evergreen structure. I love combining it with structural Buxus and Bay hedging. Another tip is plant plenty-these plants look fabulous when there are big areas of one plant.
Bringing the Provence to Wexford | How a working farm has embraced growing Lavender
If you love lavender as much as I do then why not head down to the fabulous Wexford Lavender farm? This working farm has over 6,500 Lavenders of the Grosso variety which spam two acres. Registered with the Organic Trust Ireland, the farm grows its own lavender organically with no chemical fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides. On site there is a charming cafe and gift shop as well as plenty of fun for children. It is a great day out and you can even pick up many varieties of Lavender for your own garden.
For more go to www.wexfordlavenderfarm.com
Leonie’s Lime & Lavender Mojito
I am a big fan of using Lavender in the kitchen. I love drying the herb and hanging it from the ceiling and making infused vinegars and other recipes with the flower. A spell of late summer sunshine inspired me to create a delicious Lime & Lavender mojito.
You will need:
1 cup water
1 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup dried culinary lavender
A generous cup of mint leaves
1 lime per serving
good quality White Rum (I love the Trinidadian 10 Cane which is molasses scented and super smooth)
1 can of Club Soda
How to make your Lime & Lavender Mojito
To make the syrup mix the sugar and the water in a large saucepan and simmer on a very low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and add in your lavender flowers. Let the mix rest for about an hour. Then strain out the flowers.
Now make your Mojito
- Add about 2 tablespoons of the syrup into your glass and add in the mint leaves. (I don’t like my Mojitos too sweet but you can always add in more at the end)
- Add in the crushed Ice and muddle some more.
- Add in the juice of one lime and about 1 measure of Rum (about 25ml or two tablespoons) and a splash of club soda and gently stir.
Garnish with a lavender sprig and a fresh quarter of lime and enjoy with sunshine!
Tip: For a non-alcoholic version simply substitute the rum for some extra club soda or a dash of lemonade.
Published by the Irish Mail on Sunday 21.08.16