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Vermont Garden Journal: The Beauty And Benefits Of Lavender

An essential oil bottle next to lavender flowers laying down on a surface.
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Not only a beautiful plant, lavender is also known for its many health benefits and can be easily grown in Vermont's climate.

The name "lavender" comes from the Latin word meaning "to wash" — referring to the Mediterranean herb's use in baths, beds and clothing. Its oil is used medicinally as an antibacterial, anti-convulsive, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory and anti-rheumatic. Queen Victoria even used it to soothe her nerves. This herb also adds a slightly sweet flavor to breads, soups, salads and desserts — and it can be grown here in Vermont!

Lavender is a beautiful plant in the landscape with gray-green leaves and sweet-scented, white-, pink-, lavender- or purple-colored flowers. The first step to growing it here is to choose hardy varieties. While there are Spanish, French and Portuguese types, the English and Lavandin hybrids are the toughest and hardiest. I've had good success with English varieties such as 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote.' 

Lavandin hybrids are a cross between English and Portuguese lavenders. Varieties such as 'Phenomenal' bloom later than English lavender, have sterile seeds, more and stronger scented oils, and are hardy to zone 5. Lavandins are mostly used in soaps, perfumes, medicinally and in crafts. The flavor is generally too strong for cooking.

It's also important to grow lavender in well-drained soil, full sun and a wind-protected spot, such as near your house. Lavender has few problems except rotting in heavy clay soils. Replace clay soil with a sandy loam for good water drainage.

Cover lavender with shredded bark mulch or evergreen boughs in late fall to protect plants in winter. All you really need is the bottom stems to survive the cold. In late April, you can remove the mulch and prune back the plant to live growth. Then add compost.

By early summer you'll be looking at flowers and lush leaves for cooking and decorating. Prune again after flowering.

Now for this week's tip: Despite the cold and snow, it's time to start peppers, eggplant, broccoli-family veggies, greens, marigolds and onions indoors for transplanting outside in May. However, wait on starting tomatoes.

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