Ah, the aroma of lavender!
No herb, with the exception of basil, can set a mind to reel so quickly back, to the days of summer.
Add to this the satisfying habit of the plant; presenting a solid stance, with sturdy upright stems and narrow, pointed leaves, topped by small blooms that swell, perversely, from the top downward. The stems stretch up, but not before reaching down a bit, like a living swag. Obligingly arching to soften containers, raised beds, and borders, it is mesmerizing, particularly planted en masse. And, oh, the color! The purple of the blooms is legendary. That being said, it is the grey leaf of lavender that I prize most dearly. It works as a foil for rest of the garden, bringing the full range of greens of other shrubs and plants into grudging harmony.
Yes, indeed. I am highly motivated to grow lavender in my garden. The catalogs all say that it is a snap to grow, and is a hardy thing, requiring little water and surviving even poor soil, as long as it has full sun. For years, I believed them, even though all of the lavender I planted studiously took up an attitude and eventually died. I normally don’t have trouble with things dying, not because I’m a genius, but because plants generally try really hard to live! So I got serious. Wherever I saw lavender growing successfully, in my travels throughout the state, I inquired about the variety, the frequency of supplemental watering, the number of hours of sun, and the soil type in which it was growing. Here is what I learned – none of that mattered!
This is the secret:
The one thing that lavender requires to grow in Pennsylvania is a proper home within a raised bed. Think of it as the “Princess in a Pea” plant, from now on. The higher the bed, the happier your royal brat will be. You see, in this region of the country we often have a wet fall, followed by a wet spring. This supposedly hardy plant does not want to live in a place where her feet are always wet. If you doubt me, the next time you kill lavender, pull it up by the top and take a quick whiff of the roots. You will encounter “the other end” of the lavender aroma story, and smell mold and decay. A tall bed (at least twelve inches high) will allow any excess moisture to drain away from the roots, preventing pouting and resentment, followed by a premature death. I now successfully grow an abundance of lavender, in stone, wood, and brick raised beds having a variety of soil types. You can too!
Even better, you can use lavender in any baking recipe by mixing it (fresh, not dried) in a 1:1 ratio with the sugar. You will not need to adjust the quantities of the sugar or any other ingredient. To allow the scent and flavor of the lavender to permeate, mix it with the sugar a few hours before you begin to combine them with your other ingredients.
Today we were delighted to have thirty-nine McMurray Garden Club members join us in our garden for low tea, in the British tradition. Of course we served lavender shortbread. Our new friends left with this and other recipes in hand:
Lavender Shortbread Cookies
Makes 30 odd
2 Sticks/8 oz butter, at room temperature
½ cup cane sugar, plus a little extra for sprinkling
1 and ½ cups of flour
½ cup of fresh lavender buds
Heat the oven to 350. Beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the flour, salt and lavender and mix until combined.
Bring together into a ball with your hands and shape into a flat disk. Cover and chill for at least 20 minutes
Once chilled, roll out the dough so that it is ¼ inch thick. Cut out into small rounds or use a cookie cutter shaped to your liking. Allow generous space between cookies when placing on baking trays. Sprinkle with a little extra sugar
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until they feel sandy on top and have the slightest hint of color on the edges. Allow to cool on the tray.
*Adapted (read, shamelessly and almost completely poached) from “London Foodie in New York,” a worthy blog, to accommodate our desire to use fresh lavender and MORE lavender!