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The Romance of French Lavender By Jennifer Byerton of Wine & Country Life

The Romance of French Lavender By Jennifer Byerton of Wine & Country Life


         Have you visited Provence and driven the country roads lined with fields of lavender in the summer? Notre-Dame de Senanque is a Cistercian abbey near the village of Gordes in the department of the Vaucluse in Provence that would make a lovely destination. It is also known as the Lavender Abbey of Provence. The Senanque Abbey was founded in 1148 before being ransacked by the Huguenots. After a period of expulsion in the early 1900’s when the community lived near Cannes, a small group returned to revive the traditions of lavender at their beautiful Abbey. The Abbey’s historical architecture in weathered gray tones is the perfect foil for the fields of lavender the monks carefully tend through the seasons.

 RL Bethke for Wine & Country Life 
 RL Bethke for Wine & Country Life 
The romance of Provence’s lavender fields is truly inspiring and fortunately for gardeners, lavender is an easy-care plant to grow in your garden at home. Whether you add just a few as focal points or you plant en masse, lavender is sure to calm your mind and refresh your soul.
Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks Lavender Farm 
Lavender is native to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, where the soil is rocky and lean and the climate dry and hot. There are over 450 varieties and cultivars of lavender to choose from. Like its botanical cousin mint, lavender is not attractive to deer or rabbits making it a great choice for planting in your garden at home.
Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks Lavender Farm 
In Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic the optimal varieties to grow include t
he petite Hidcote. Its stems are only 6-8 inches, the plant height is 12-20 inches with dark blue blooms. Ideal for smaller gardens and pots as well as a top choice for culinary endeavors. Lavender buds in lemonade, a cocktail, on a salad, in shortbread or perhaps decorating the frosting of a classic white tea cake are all flavorful and beautiful ways to live farm-to-table.
Grosso or ‘fat lavender’ does well in Virginia. At 32-36 inches in height, with stems of 20-24 inches and 3 inches of dark purple blooms it makes a lovely silvery green accent plant, almost playing the role of shrub in your garden design.  
Provence is evergreen in warm climates like ours and can stretch to 3 feet tall. It is popular for small hedges and has a marvelous fragrance that will drift throughout the garden. Many report this variety is very tolerant of clay soils.
Photo courtesy of Seven Oaks Lavender Farm 
“Lavender is a complete sensory experience from its visual beauty to its touch, scent, taste and sounds. Yes, sounds. Lavender is a treat for beneficial pollinators in your garden and the sound of bees on a hot summer afternoon creates a moment of awe for me as I drink it all in. I know I’ve done well with my little patch of Earth.”
The best time for planting lavender in Virginia is after the frost date. In Virginia, our zones run from 6a to 8a so mid-May onwards should be fine. While you can raise lavender from seed, it is so much easier to begin with started plants from the nursery. You’ll enjoy the gratification of blooms in your first summer.
Lavender wants a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. Likely, you’ll need to add a bit of lime to our typically acidic Virginia soil so be sure to get your soil tested. Even more important than proper pH is having full sun and well-drained soil. Add in sand or small gravel to your planting hole for drainage.
Once established, lavender needs no watering or fertilizer. Now, sit back and watch for blooms in late May through June. Play some Dubussy, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy the romance of French lavender in your own garden.
Written by Jennifer Bryerton, Editor-in-Chief of Wine & Country Life magazine and co-owner of Ivy Life & Style Media. She has a masters degree in education and grew up in a family of gardeners and storytellers. She enjoys exploring exquisite gardens and vineyards in Virginia around the world.
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