Lavender is a sweet aromatic woody evergreen shrub that shares the Labiatae family with other aromatic herbs such as sage, thyme, and mint. Lavender comes from the genus, Lavandula, which is divided into six primary different sections.
There are over 100 varieties of lavender and hundreds of cultivars, or subspecies of those varieties in the world! On our 25 acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley, we are experimenting with 30 varieties of lavender. Characteristics such as size, leaf and flower color, distance of buds on stems, and aroma all influence the type of lavender and therefore its specific use. Height and girth can range from giant to dwarf, foliage color from green to light gray, flower color from white to pink to all shades of purple, and scent from sweet and floral to herbaceous. Flowers may be shaped like cones or spindles, and the space on the stem between buds may vary. The shrub may be spherical to bushy to spreading. Leaves may be serrated or needle shaped. After four years, mature lavender plants typically range in height from 12-48 inches.
English and French Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) is typically believed to produce the finest and most delicate aroma. Some of the defining characteristics of English Lavender include: small shrub, narrow-leaves, short stems, potent flowers, visible space between lavender buds, and hardy up to -25F. Some of the common varieties of angustifolia found on our farm include Munstead, Hidcote, Maillette, Melissa, Royal Velvet, Buena Vista, Folgate, and Sachet. Often these types of lavender hang well on the stem and dry well. With its sweeter aroma, English lavender, especially Melissa, is ideal for culinary purposes. The butterflies and bees are often seen buzzing around these sweet varieties!
Lavandin (Lavender intermedia), also known as the “grand lavenders,” is a hybrid of angustifolia and latifolia. Lavandin is the most common, predictable, and hardy of all the lavenders. This attractive variety of lavender produces long-stemmed flowers with thick blue-gray spiked flowers. The shrub grows to three feet by three feet when fully matured. These hybrid lavenders can only be propagated by cuttings since they are seedless and sterile. This species of lavender is high in oil content so the essential oil is often used in soaps, lotions, and cleaning products. Some of the lavandin on our farm are Grosso and Provence.