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Lavender Fit for Kings, Queens and Butterflies

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Lavender adds a tranquil feeling to a garden. Not only is its musky odor relaxing, but lavender also makes an attractive addition to the landscape with its silver-gray foliage and pale purple-blue flowers.

Lavender can be planted as a hedge or edging or in borders. Its aromatic foliage and flowers also attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

Used today to make potpourri, perfume, aromatic essential oil, soap, tea and seasonings for cooking, lavender was once a favorite of royalty. Charles VI of France sat on cushions stuffed with lavender; Queen Elizabeth I of England insisted that lavender conserve be on her table at all times.

Lavender can be found in most nurseries, and April is a great month to plant this herb, said Joyce Ellenbecker, owner of Lavender Variations in Anaheim, a company that makes lavender teas, jellies and vinegars, which are available at various Orange County specialty nurseries.

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There are many types of lavender, including English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), which grows to 3 to 4 feet high and wide and has a sweet smell. Its essential oils are used in perfume. The variety ‘Jean Davis’ grows 1 to 2 feet tall and has pale pink flowers. ‘Dwarf Munstead’ is a small, mounding plant with deep lavender-blue flowers.

Provence (L. intermedia) is a hybrid that grows to 2 feet. It has gray-green foliage and long mauve-to-purple spikes and is used in cooking and commercially for bulk lavender oil. ‘Goodwin Creek Grey’ has silver-white, fuzzy foliage and deep lavender flowers and reaches 2 1/2 feet.

Lavender, native to the Mediterranean region, is drought-tolerant and requires very little care once established.

“Lavender likes benign neglect,” said Ellenbecker, who also self-published and sells the book “Cooking With Lavender.” “Give lavender too much attention and it will die.”

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To grow lavender successfully, keep the following tips in mind:

* Plant in a location that has full sun and good drainage. If lavender’s roots get soggy, the plant will die. Loosen clay soil with 50% homemade or bagged compost or plant in raised beds.

* Once established, lavender needs very little, if any, watering. If the weather gets really hot, just give the plant a good soaking.

* Lavender needs very little fertilizing. Feeding the plant too much will make it weak in winter and can hamper essential oil production, which will lead to a less fragrant plant. Fertilize with fish emulsion just once a year, in the spring when it begins to bloom.

* Lavender does well in containers that are at least 16 inches in diameter. Fill the pot with potting soil and homemade or bagged compost. Container plants need to be watered and fertilized more frequently than in-ground plants. Water the container as soon as it dries out, and fertilize twice a year with fish emulsion and bone meal.

* Lavender flowers can be cut for fresh bouquets and for drying. Harvest flowers when they are in full bloom. Cut at the base of the flower, where the leaves are, which will stimulate new growth and keep air circulating through the plant.

To dry flowers, bunch them and hang upside down in a warm, dark place. In fresh displays, they will also dry where you place them without mildewing.

Lavender Variation’s products and lavender plants can be found at Heards Country Gardens in Westminster; Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar; Sherman Gardens in Corona del Mar; and Friday House Gardens, in Country Roads Antiques in Orange.

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