Wednesday, 15 July 2009
When I woke to heavy rain showers this morning I was very glad that I had managed to pick lots of lavender on Sunday. To ensure the best scent, lavender should be picked on a dry, sunny day just as the flowers are beginning to open, preferably in the middle of the day so that any morning dew has dried and before any evening dampness has settled. This sounds quite simple, but we have had two very wet summers just at the crucial time for harvest: I rely on air-drying my lavender, and damp lavender will go mouldy and won’t be very fragrant. In our slightly uncertain climate, a successful lavender harvest depends on my being at home on those dry days when the flowers are just at the right point – I nearly didn’t pick it on Sunday, having had a damp Saturday night, and feeling busy with other things, but it’s just as well that I did. Because of last year’s wet summer and being away at the crucial time, I managed to harvest only a little and have missed it all year.
To dry the lavender I put bunches head down into paper bags, fastened at the neck with elastic bands, and tie them somewhere airy to dry. If you have an airing cupboard, that is perfect, and the lavender will dry more quickly. The paper bags stop the lavender from getting dusty, and catch the little buds as they fall off the stalk. When the lavender is dry, rub the lavender heads off the stalk and store in a tin somewhere dry. The lavender remains scented for at least a year – I have grown several different varieties, but the old English lavender seems to be the hardiest and the most successful for drying.
Sharing your surpluses is one of the principles of permaculture (more of which here, and a subject I will come back to another time), and lavender is perfect for sharing. It repels clothes moths, is a remedy for insomnia, and smells so heavenly – I make lavender bags and lavender hearts as presents for all occasions; a gift of a big bunch of lavender tied with raffia is a perfect alternative to buying one of those sad bouquets of flowers which languish outside petrol stations, probably air-freighted or trucked in from miles away. If you plonk lavender in a jug without water it will last for ages and gradually dry naturally. Lavender jelly is quite delicious too – a very delicate flavour, nice on toast.
And don’t forget the bees – I never pick all the lavender, as it is alive with bees at this time of year. I therefore leave plenty for them, because in return they will pollinate my crops. Bees are having a pretty hard time at the moment, so I like to give them all the help I can. Leaving plenty of lavender flowers also has other benefits, as it will scent and prettify my garden for quite some time. So plant some lavender – you don’t need a garden, it will grow in a pot, so a doorstep will do – and have fun sharing it with your friends.