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The Year of the Lavender

Lavender deserves a spot in any garden honors, and this year, the National Garden Bureau has declared 2020 the “Year of the Lavender” as its perennial choice. I couldn’t agree more. Lavender is a perfect drought-tolerant plant and a versatile perennial. Aside from how darn pretty it looks, consider all these reasons lavender deserves this and other acclaim – and a spot in your Southwest garden!

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The Fragrance

When you brush by a lavender plant or harvested bunch of buds, you get the scent right away. Liking fragrances is subjective, but I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes lavender aroma!

Bees and Butterflies

We have so many pollinators on our lavender that I prefer to harvest the stalks on cloudy days so the bees and I can stay out of each other’s way.

Butterflies and bees flock to lavender.

Garden Flexibility

Lavender can fit into nearly any landscape style. They are natural looking enough to work in a rock garden, but can look formal when planted in rows or containers. I’ve even seen them trimmed into hedges. That would not be my choice, but brushing up against one along the sidewalk of a therapy garden? OK!

Imagine how fragrant this garden spot is with Lavender Blue Spear, and English Lavender variety. Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau.

Lavender Variety

Several varieties, or cultivars, make it pretty easy to find a lavender for your region and growing conditions. English lavender is the hardiest to cold, and many varieties are hardy to zone 5; others can take heat up to zone 10. Spanish and French lavenders are less winter hardy. Some lavenders are bred for their aroma, some for long or deep purple flower stalks for cutting, and others for their oil or culinary use. You also can find white and pink lavender varieties, and new varieties of this popular herb come out often; see some popular varieties on the NGB site.

Pink Bandera is a pretty Spanish lavender perfect for a container. Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau.

Herbal Uses

Lavender has a history of aromatherapy uses and is said to have a calming effect and to ease headaches, among other benefits. It’s useful in cooking or baking and among the top scents for soaps, lotions and cleansers.

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Cut bunches make fragrant dried arrangements, potpourri and more.

Cut Flowers

Bring bouquets of lavender inside for a natural and pretty air freshener. It is easy to harvest lavender stalks and add flower buds to make potpourri, sachets or candles. Oil gets more complicated, but you can buy that from lavender farms!

Bright blue lavender Blue Cushion
Blue Cushion is a deeply colored English lavender that grows in zones 5 through 9. Image courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.

Try Lavender!

To celebrate The Year of the Lavender, give this herb a fighting chance by selecting the best available variety for your conditions, making sure it does not stay wet and cold (but gets plenty of water while new) and adding a little protection. For example, rock mulch or South-facing walls can add warmth to a lavender on the border of your area’s cold hardiness; placing the plant where it gets morning sun but some shade in the hot afternoon can give lavender a better shot in low deserts.  

Long lavender stalks in the Year of the Lavender

You really can grow lavender and there is no better time to do so than 2020; learn how in my 2018 post.

Teresa Odle, Southwest Gardening contributor

Teresa Odle is the editor of African Violet Magazine, a freelance editor for BobVila.com, and author of a blog on low-water gardening in the Southwest.  Teresa trained as a Master Gardener in Albuquerque, N.M. She grew up in the Phoenix area, and has lived in the mountains of northern New Mexico. Teresa and her husband now attempt to manage four acres of land in zone 6B of southeastern New Mexico. The land includes a large xeric garden, herbs and vegetables, and a small orchard that borders the Rio Ruidoso in Lincoln County. Teresa’s blog, Gardening in a Drought, won a 2016 national award for best writing in digital media from the Association for Garden Communicators.

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