The Lavender Harvest

Lavender. Lovely, lovely lavender. I love many plants, but lavender is my favorite, both for sentimental associations (the college professor who staged a midsummer reading every year of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, complete with lavender wreaths for the readers) and for its practical applications.

The blue-green foliage of Lavendula angustifolia 'Munstead' looks fabulous with golden oregano even when it's not blooming. But when it is? Gorgeous!

The blue-green foliage of Lavendula angustifolia ‘Munstead’ looks fabulous with golden oregano even when it’s not blooming. But when it is? Gorgeous!

How do I love it? Let me count the ways:

1. It smells great. And I don’t care if your maiden aunt smelled like lavender so you associate it with elderly women. I love it.

2. It’s drought tolerant. It likes hot, dry weather. Give it excellent drainage, and you’re good to go.

3. Bees and other pollinators flock to it, which is good for the garden as a whole.

4. It’s semi-evergreen, which means you can use it to add some winter structure to the garden. For someone like yours truly who hates boxwood, this is not an inconsiderable virtue.

5. You can make sachets and lavender wands with it, then give them as gifts. When you say, “I grew the lavender, too,” people think you’re some kind of Martha Stewart-level domestic genius.

6. Lavender is for luck, and we can all use more of that.

I harvest when the lavender is just starting to open. If I wait for the blooms to open completely, I find they fall off the stem and become messier. Plus the buds hold their color better than than open flowers do.

The harvest. The long-stemmed, lighter-colored ones are Lavendula x intermedia 'Provence. The short, dark purple ones are Lavendula angustifolia 'Hidcote.'

The harvest. The long-stemmed, lighter-colored ones are Lavendula x intermedia ‘Provence. The short, dark purple ones are Lavendula angustifolia ‘Hidcote.’

A patient woman would search for buds at the perfect stage, then cut the stems one by one. I, on the other hand, grab handfuls of stems and cut them off close to the leaves. It’s a whole lot faster. And I don’t harvest all my lavender, instead leaving some plants for the bees.

I grow English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) and lavandin (Lavendula x intermedia), which are the only lavender species hardy to Indiana. Any lavender that has little wings on top of the flower? Forget it. You can grow those Spanish and French lavenders in a pot and bring them inside during the winter, but I have established that the survival rate for that kind of fussing in my garden is zero.

Once I cut the lavender, I bunch it into small bundles held together with hair ties (I didn’t have any rubber bands, ok? Don’t judge me.) I used to make lavender wands, which involve folding the stems back over the flowers and weaving ribbon in and out, but that takes more time than I’ve got. So now I’m just drying for sachets.

I've tied the lavender into bunches and hung the bundles upside down. Note the coordinating ribbon. I'd like to pretend that I planned that, but it was actually the only thing I could find to tie the bundles to the drying rack.

I’ve tied the lavender into bunches and hung the bundles upside down. Note the coordinating ribbon. I’d like to pretend that I planned that, but it was actually the only thing I could find to tie the bundles to the drying rack.

Once they’re bundled, I hang them on a drying rack (which I bought at the Goodwill Outlet). Ideally, you want to dry them in a dark, warm place, but you work with what you’ve got. In my case, that’s the bedroom.

Once everything is dry, you can either keep them on the stems, or strip the buds off into a container. And then—oh, the possibilities!

2 responses

  1. Hi There Fraudulent Farmgirl,
    I just stumbled across this and, I have a very large Lavender plant that I planted last Fall. It seems to be extremely happy in its location since it’s getting huge! But it’s outgrown its space and starting to crowd other plants out. Is it the wrong time of year (very hot here – 100 +) to move it? If so, when is the best time? I’ve already harvested it once this year and it’s blooming like crazy again.
    Catch you again soon!

    • Hi James!

      Unfortunately, lavender does not transplant very well.If you’re going to try to move it, definitely wait until fall. Be sure to cut the dead flowerheads off when you transplant it; you want it to put all its energy into putting down roots.

      You can also try taking cuttings or layering it to get new plants. Here’s a quick rundown on that: http://www.millbrooklavenderfarm.com/lavender/growing-lavender.

      Good luck!

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