Cathy Rogers inspects her lavender crop. Photo by Barb Gorges.
Also published at Wyoming Network News, https://www.wyomingnetworknews.com/lavender-is-a-perfect-plant-for-cheyenne, and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Oct. 21, 2018.
Lavender is a perfect plant for Cheyenne
By Barb Gorges
Lavender is an herb held in high esteem across the ages, even back 2,500 years when it was used in mummifying pharaohs in Egypt, according to Google.
Lavender, a member of the mint family, is edible. As a dried wreath or spray, its soft gray-green leaves and stems of lavender, pink, blue or white flowers are classic. As an essential oil or dried herb, it has medicinal uses. It is often used in perfumes and other products because its scent has a reputation for calming the mind. Even photos of great fields of it in Provence, France, or garden borders in England give one a sense of peace.
All those attributes may have been what Laramie County Master Gardener Cathy Rogers was looking for when she went to her first lavender festival several years ago.
“I became interested in lavender because it has always been my favorite fragrance,” she said. It led her to want to fill her pasture on Cheyenne’s north side with mounds of lavender shrubs. She brought home several varieties to try.
Growing conditions here are perfect for many kinds of lavender: dry weather, lots of sunshine and well-drained, low fertility, alkaline soil. The alkalinity enhances the fragrance.
Deer don’t like lavender, but bees do—two more reasons to consider growing it.
Although many of the 450-plus named cultivars of lavender are rated Zone 5, Cheyenne’s growing zone, mulching after the first freeze will protect them from being killed by our region’s tendency for multiple freeze-thaw cycles each winter.
On a hot day in August, Cathy took me out to her garden to inspect the kinds of lavender she chose from festival vendors as most suited to Cheyenne:
Edelweiss (Grosso white)
Lavender will seed itself, though it won’t grow true to its parent. It can be propagated from cuttings, which is what Cathy did to establish the long row in the pasture.
She prefers to make hers from the softwood—the flexible, non-woody branch ends. She cuts them about 5 inches long and strips the leaves off the lower half. Then she dips the ends of the stems in rooting hormone and inserts them in seed-starting medium, usually a light potting soil made up of ingredients like peat, vermiculite, perlite—not plain old garden soil. You can try rooting the stem in water too. Cathy had 80 percent success with her seed-starting soil method.
It takes about three years for the new plants to mature. Cathy waited a year before planting her cuttings out in the field where she had suppressed the pasture vegetation with weed-barrier cloth. Proper spacing is important—lavender shrubs can be as large as 30 inches wide as well as 30 inches high.
Lavender requires little care most years, once it’s established. Cathy had only irrigated the row once as of mid-August. But plants require annual pruning when mature. Removing one-third of the shrub, usually in spring right after last frost, will give you more flowers. But sometimes branches are harvested during the growing season.
When and what is harvested depends on what product is the goal. For decorative craft purposes, snip branches when the flowers are barely open. Potpourri and sachets use only the flower buds, again, barely open.
For use in food, often paired with lemon flavors in desserts or roasted with chicken or vegetables, check the recipe. Some call for dried or fresh flowers, others for the leaves. A little goes a long way—maybe two teaspoons of dried buds for an 8 x 12-inch pan of lemon bars.
There’s also lavender infusions, lavender sugar, lavender syrup, lavender jam, lavender vinegar and lavender lemonade.
Distilling essential oils requires a big copper distiller like a moonshine still. It can use whole branches, leaves and all. Essential oils get used in cleaning and beauty products.
Cathy’s best sources of information have been the workshops and vendors at the Lavender Association of Western Colorado festival. The next one is June 29, 2019, in Palisade, Colorado, outside Grand Junction. The association’s website, https://coloradolavender.org, has detailed information on growing lavender in a climate similar to ours.
“I use The Lavender Lover’s Handbook, The 100 Most Beautiful and Fragrant Varieties for Growing, Crafting, and Cooking, by Sarah Berringer Baden, as my primary reference, at least until I can get to Provence, France, or Sequim, Washington,” Cathy said. Both are centers of the lavender industry.
This fall is the perfect time to plan and prepare a spot to plant lavender next spring.