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The heady smell of lavender can, like all complexly scented summer flowers, evoke a wide span of memories. From maiden-aunt toilet water to linen-closet sachets, lavender carries with it an aura of cleanliness and freshness, compounded by slender etymological links between the Latin plant name (Lavendula) and Latin verb for washing (lavare). Used as a room-freshener, strewing herb and component in soothing medicinal oils, lavender has gained new attention as a culinary ingredient.
When and How
Although lavender comes in several distinct varieties and flourishes in several different countries, all types of lavender favour somewhat similar growing conditions. This perennial plant is a mid-spring to early-summer bloomer, usually reaching harvestable height and maturity in early to midsummer. While tolerant of abundant spring moisture, lavender produces its most concentrated aroma with little summer rainfall. All varieties show some heat and drought tolerance.
When and Where
Tourists have centred vacations around visits to the lavender fields of Provence, the heart of the French perfume industry. French lavender begins blooming in mid- to late June, followed by a July harvest. French lavender varieties include both Lavendula dentata (serrated-leaf lavender) and Lavendula stoechas (Spanish lavender) which grows wild in France. In California and Texas, both areas of commercial lavender farming in the U.S., blooming can start in mid-spring. English lavender may get off to a slower start, depending on weather. Lavender season in Australia, part of a growing perfume industry, begins in November.
Lavenders divide generally into three groups: French, Spanish and other non-English lavenders (sometimes referred to as Mediterranean lavenders); English lavenders; and hybrid lavandins. The first group includes French lavender, wild French lavender (also called Spanish), yellow, sweet, Allardii, Godwin Creek Gray and Woolly. In USDA growing zones 8 through 10, these plants will begin to bloom in early to mid-spring, the latest bloomer in this group being Woolly.
Acclimated to a more extended temperate spring season, English lavenders overlap in blooming cycles with some early varieties, beginning to bloom mid- to late spring. Blooming can extend into mid-June. Varieties include Munstead, English, Hidcote (both blue and pink flowering), Sarah and Vera.
Lavandins are English-based hybrids designed for aggressive growth and higher heat tolerance than native English strains. Blooming begins as English lavenders fade and continues into midsummer. Mountain Valley Growers describes the lavandins as the "workhorses" of the lavender family. Varieties include Provence, Grosso, Hidcote Giants, Seal and several other large types. Vigorous growth and heat-drought tolerance let these plants extend the lavender season into July and sometimes a bit after.
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