The common or English lavender flower is one of the primary sources of the fragrant essential oil used in perfumes and scents.
The common or English lavender can grow into a bushy shrub up to 3 ft (90 cm) tall and 4 ft (120 cm) wide, but often stays considerably more compact and smaller, and might better be classified as a subshrub. The leaves are linear, furry grayish green and about 2 in (5 cm) long. Like most self respecting members of the mint family, the leaves are aromatic when bruised, and borne opposite each other on stems that are square in cross section. In summer, 4-8 in (10-20 cm) unbranched stalks grow upright from the ends of branches, and these are topped with 3 in (7.5 cm) spikes of fragrant pink to purple tiny little flowers. These are typical mint-family flowers, tubular and bilaterally symmetrical with two lips. The upper lip has two lobes and the lower lip has three lobes, but you’ll need a hand lens to see these details.
There are a few dozen named cultivars with flowers ranging from white to dark purple. All have strongly aromatic foliage. ‘Nana Alba’ has white flowers and gets only about 24 in (60 cm) tall. ‘Loddon Pink’, with pale rose colored flowers, is only 18 in (45 cm) tall. ‘Dutch’ has blue flowers. ‘Lavender Lady’ is a seed propagated cultivar that flowers its first year after sowing. Some of these and other named cultivars actually may be hybrids with L. latifolia and would be properly classified as Lavandula x intermedia.
Despite its common name, English lavender is native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, where it grows in dry, exposed, rocky habitats. Lavandula angustifolia is widely cultivated as an ornamental and is grown commercially for the perfume and potpourri industries in England, France, Spain, New Zealand and elsewhere.
English lavendar produces flowers throughout the season up until the first freeze.
English lavender will thrive in well drained soils either alkaline or acidic. This is a perennial, but a short lived one, and seldom lives more than five or ten years. Light: Lavender requires full sun. Moisture: English lavender is fairly tolerant of drought and can only be grown in very well drained soils. Hot, humid summers will take their toll on this dry loving herb. If winters are wet, lavender plants should be grown on raised beds. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5-9. Although tolerant of moderate frosts, lavender should be provided a winter protection of mulch in the cooler regions. Propagation: Seeds can be sown in containers in early spring and set out later. Cuttings of young, fast growing (non-flowering) stem tips can be rooted in sand, with best results under mist.
English lavender grows well in containers placed in hot sunny situations.
English lavender is well adapted to rock gardens and borders, and is especially useful as a low hedge for edging around flower beds. The lacy gray-green foliage is attractive year round and in summertime the pretty little flowers are relished by bees and butterflies. Prune back to 6-8 in (15-20 cm) high in spring to promote strong, branching new growth.
English lavender is used as a cut flower either fresh or dried. Both leaves and flower clusters are often dried for arrangements, potpourri and sachets. For best results, cut the flowerheads when the flowers are colored, but before fully open, and hang in a cool, dry place.
The perfume industry has long relied on oil of lavender, which is distilled from the flowers of English lavender and the related Spanish lavender (L. stoechas). Lavender water, an infusion of oil of lavender and water, has been used as a fragrant wash for centuries. In fact, the scientific and common names come from the Latin lavare, which means "to wash". Other uses of the essential oils include bath products, topical salves and cosmetics.
Lavender flowers are known for their high nectar content and are sometimes grown (especially in southern Europe) specifically for honeybees, which produce a premium high quality honey. Dried flower buds can be candied, and are used in cakes, scones and other confections. The flowers or leaves are blended with herbal teas.
Infusions of lavender have been used in aromatherapy and as a topical treatment for insect bites, contusions and burns. Research suggests that inhaling lavender scents induces a sedative-like calming effect. Oil of lavender has been used as an antiseptic and is said to have anti-inflammatory properties. The foliage appears to repel insects and dried bouquets are used in drawers and chests to repel moths and add a pleasant perfume to clothes and bedding.
There are a couple dozen species of Lavandula, all occurring in Asia and the Mediterranean region from India to Arabia to Somalia.
WARNING Apparently some people are allergic to lavender and its oils.