During a cooking weekend at Callaway Gardens years ago, one of the most memorable tastes was a lavender sorbet. I never had tasted lavender in cooking before and was pleasantly surprised.
A quick search on the Internet reveals recipes for this herb in many sweet and savory dishes, including cookies, lemonade, jellies, meat marinades and more, plus the opportunity to purchase lavender flowers for cooking and crafts. Imagine placing small sprigs of lavender flowers in old fashioned ice cube trays, then including a few in a glass of lemonade. Or just tossing a few lavender flowers over fresh fruit. The key seems to be not to overdo, which would be easy with this fragrant herb.
There are almost 30 species of lavender and dozens of varieties just of English lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), the most popular lavender for cooking. This also seems to be the one that is about the least suited for growing in the Southeast. To keep lavender plants happy here you need full sun, good drainage and air circulation.
Lavender is grown as a crop in California and appreciates dry air and soil that is sandy, alkaline and well-drained. Georgia is not California, and I am quite OK with that fact. Those Californians don't have the rhododendrons and camellias we do. Don't expect to grow a lavender hedge in Georgia, but don't give up on growing this wonderful herb either.
The trick to growing lavender here is to find a variety that does well here, keep it pretty dry and provide excellent drainage and air circulation. A raised bed or container would work well for lavender; just combine it with plants that also can take it dry, like lantana, verbena, sedum and daylilies. In the ground, add gravel and maybe a little lime to provide the conditions it prefers. It will not fare well with our humid summers planted in a crowded, irrigated flower border. Last year I planted a lavender test garden which now has 6 plants in a raised bed.
Provence and Spanish lavender (closeup photo and in bloom in my test garden) are two that seem to do well in this area. In the herb garden of The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, there are Spanish lavender plants that are as woody as the rosemary plants. Both are beautiful plants that provide fragrant blooms and foliage and edible flowers. Lavender also attracts bees and is thoroughly disgusting to deer.
If you are trying lavender for the first time, I suggest you buy plants from an area nursery. More than likely they have grown lavender for years and know which varieties do best here. Seeds are slow to start and you want to start with just one or two plants anyway.
Lavender has a strong heritage. Ancient Egyptians used lavender in the mummification process and Pilgrims brought it with them to the New World. Lavender has been used for centuries for bathing, laundry and medicine. I like the old treatment of a cordial made from wine steeped in lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood after an "indigestible meal." A friend put dried lavender sprigs in a present she wrapped for me. Open the preset and the fragrance greets you - how charming! I’m going to have to remember that for the hand knit shawls and scarves I am making.