The highlight of the garden right now is a waving patch of purple, aromatic and buzzing with life. It’s time for the lavender harvest!
We planted this patch fourteen years ago and it has outlasted our expectations. I pondered back then what we could plant that the gophers would leave alone, that was drought-tolerant and something we loved. So lavender it was. Unlike so many other garden experiments we’ve tried, this one has worked well so far.
This variety is called “Grosso” and has great form, color, scent and dries well. We bought 350 plants back then (from Emerisa Gardens, if you are interested). Each year we start harvesting when the buds reach about 10% open, then we gather and arrange large handfuls into bunches and hang them to dry. Sitting in the middle of a large pile of field cut lavender, tidying them into bunches is especially welcome this year, since I’ve been in need of healing surrounds — being mostly laid up and on crutches with a bad knee recently.
The honeybees and bumblebees LOVE lavender and during the height of bloom and are mesmerizing to watch in their vibrating cloud above the purple swath. The honeybees must come from a neighbor’s hive or perhaps one of the wild ones we’ve noticed from time to time. They are so very determined that these normally shy creatures refuse to leave a flower head for almost any reason. I usually give them a gentle puff of breath to move them over when harvesting. And wear gloves. They don’t want to sting of course since they are 1) totally focused on the lavender and 2) will die if they do, poor things. I prefer to leave some of the patch unharvested for them. A couple days ago, I hobbled out to the patch on my crutches in the evening and noticed only bumblebees on the lavender. Do honeybees go to bed early and bumblees stay up later? I hope someone who knows will tell me.
What to do with dried lavender bunches? I just like having them around the house–in an ornamental vase for example. They smell good of course and are pretty. Rub a dried flower to release more scent. I keep them for months until their stems pale from subtle green to brown, then use them as part of the kindling in the wood stove in winter.
I also like making sachets, using cotton muslin bags and hand-carved stamps. To collect the buds for a sachet or potpourri, turn them upside down over a paper bag and rub the tops between your hands. I keep lavender sachets with clothes, in the car, in the linen closet, sometimes in pillow cases. Vacuuming up a bit of dried lavender makes the vacuum air smell better. Spent stalks can also be used as mulch around trees — although beware if you are in a wildfire zone. Kids might enjoy making lavender wands from fresh cut lavender, and of course lavender is popular at weddings for bouquets, favors, or in place of rice for the toss.
Many people ask us if we do essential oils. We do have an alembic distiller that we pull out of the closet from time to time, but we like the dried lavender bunches the best with the Grosso variety. If I had a patch of Provence variety, I’d probably want to distill that into essential oil and floral water (hydrosol) since it has more of a sweet floral aroma.
The only thing I wish I had done differently with the lavender patch would have been to leave a bare circle in the middle of the patch to satisfy the overwhelming desire to lie down in the middle of it when it’s in full bloom!
I hope all of you are having a wonderful summer so far, and enjoying seeing friends for perhaps the first time in a long while!