Can I grow lavender in Maine?
Glendarragh Farm’s south-facing, rolling fields are a perfect match for English lavender and tenacious lavandins. In all there are more than 30 types of English lavender (lavandula angustifolia), seven of which were grown by Glendarragh in 2008. The angustifolias are hardy to Zone 5 and are prized for the scent of foliage, flowers and, most important, oil.
The lavandins—better known as French lavender—are more difficult to grow in Maine, but produce more flowers and more oil per acre than the angustifolias. Thus far, the five French varieties being grown by Glendarragh are doing well. Both types grow happily at Glendarragh Farm, along the St. George River. We will open the farm in 2010 during open farm days and for another, to-be-scheduled event.
The English Lavenders
The English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolias), include Munstead, Betty”s Blue, Melissa, Hidcote, Hidcote Pink, Jean Davis, Sarah, Coconut Ice, and Vera. They flower in July and again in September. After flowering, they are pruned to create low-growing hedges with fragrant foliage. The English lavenders are hardy to Zone 5 (and some as low as Zone 3) but, like all lavenders, will not tolerate poor drainage or high humidity, which is why the sloping fields and cooling river mists of Glendarragh are every lavender’s paradise.
- Our English lavender has large leaves and more than tripled in size in its first year at Glendarragh. The bees love its light blue flowers.
- Munstead lavender is named for Munstead Woods, the home garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. Munstead tolerates summer heat the best of all of the above English lavenders. (Munstead thrives at Glendarragh and will be the staple of our 2012 oil supply!)
- Hidcote lavender produces the darkest purple flower of the angustifolias. It’s smaller than Munstead. Like most of these “English” Lavenders, Hidcote is not as drought or heat tolerant as the lavandins.
- Jean Davis has a pastel pink flower and a somewhat fruity-flavored flower. (Munstead is a also somewhat fruity.)
- Coconut Ice blooms white.
- Fashionably Late was created by Sunny Border of Connecticut. Not available for sale, you’ll nonetheless appreciate its dark purple foliage in late July.
- Betty’s Blue sends 18-inch wands of deep violet flowers toward the sky and is a great culinary lavender.
- Melissa lavender, like Betty’s Blue, is coveted for culinary uses.
- Vera lavender is thought to be the true English lavender and is thought to be the best Lavender for medicinal and aromatherapy purposes.
English lavender hybrids, or lavandins, prefer Zone 6 but careful site selection and stone mulch have made the lavandins the stars of Glendarragh and the must-stop for every bee. And why not? Each plant sends up 24-inch wands peppered with fragrant flowers.
Lavandins have bloom to spare and are coveted for oil production. The oil of lavandins is a bit heavier, headier than the English lavenders, yet they out-produce the English lavenders in oil and bloom production.
Provence and Grosso are the best known of the lavandins and, along with Abriali, and Hidcote Giant, grow at Glendarragh. So, too, Super, Provence and Arabian Nights.
Lavandins have long gray leaves, twice or more the size of L. angustifolias. They also grow much larger and faster.
- Abriali lavender is one of the oldest lavandins, is beautifully colored, and a little shorter than Grosso. It was also used for oil production before Grosso was developed.
- Grosso is cultivated for oil used mainly in the cosmetic industry. It makes great lavender bouquets and wands. Grosso Lavender has beautiful purple calyxes instead of the normal green calyx of most lavenders.
- Super sends its light blue wands as high as Provence spikes.
- Arabian Nights boast dark purple foliage and has a low, sprawling habitat.
- Provence has a long, slender flower wand that is useful for dried bud collecting. The buds come cleanly and easily away from the stalk. This variety is not good for displayed dried flowers—the buds fall off easily.
Most lavenders are started from cuttings from mature plants. This is the most accurate way to cultivate, producing an exact replica of the original plant. In addition, Lavandins either do not make seeds or the seeds are sterile, so you will never see a seed packet of these.
A healthy lavender enjoys the conditions we would enjoy at the beach: Sun. Sand. A little water, feet that don’t stay wet too long, and more sun.
Lavender requires good drainage. Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Check the soil’s pH (potential hydrogen) to ensure it falls somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the lavender will not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are “tied” up in the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help balance the pH.
Mulching with a small particle mulch or compost after planting helps with the weed control, but avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a perimeter about two inches wide around the plant. We prefer to mulch with local crushed stone. Remember, lavender hates humidity and needs good air circulation around its base.
For ultimate show, space plants according to their height measurement. For example, Grosso can grow to 3 feet. By spacing these 3 or 4 feet apart, you can create a living “wall” of fragrant bloom. To make a tight row or hedge, set plants close together, but always consider the need for air circulation.