What do you find calming? For me it's always been lavender. I remember taking Lamaze classes when pregnant for the first time. They told me to picture in my mind a scene that calms me, so when the contractions get to be too much, visualizing that place would help. My scene of choice? A field of blooming lavender.
That was 30 years ago, and to this day, that is still my mind's calm place to go - walking through those rows and rows of lavender. A couple years ago, I finally visited one and that was such a treat. We tasted and smelled all the lavender things from hand soaps to ice cream.
I'm not the only one who has this affection for lavender. In 2017, July 9th was declared National Lavender Day as a way to draw attention to all the lavender growers and the lavender industry here in the US. Mid-summer thousands flock to Washington Island to see the fields of lavender. Closer to home, New Life Lavender Farm, in Baraboo, WI is a wonderful place to visit.
How to Grow Lavender
It's not an easy plant to grow here in SE Wisconsin. Of the two hardy varieties, 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote', 'Hidcote' has given me the best luck. Both have that wonderful fragrance, but 'Hidcote's' blooms are a deep purple. 'Hidcote' is also one of the top five varieties with the best flavor. Lavender needs full sun and well-drained soil, so if you have clay soil, it may not be happy there.
If you haven't had luck with hardy lavenders, then treat yourself to Spanish lavender. Enjoy it in it's pot for the summer and fall, then try to winter it over indoors.
Other varieties of note:
'Grosso' has the most concentrated oils so is the most fragrance. It's long stems lend well to lavender wands. Not hardy here, but worth growing in a container all summer.
'Goodwin Creek' is the best variety as a houseplant.
If you are growing lavender for culinary use, look for organically-grown lavender.
When to Harvest Lavender
How you intend to use lavender determines when to harvest it. If used in the kitchen for baking, pick before the flower buds have opened - when the buds are tight. If using it medicinally or aromatically, then pick the flowers as they begin to open. Dry the stems upside down bundled with rubber bands.
How to Use Lavender
Even if you don't grow lavender, you can experience it's calming effects in the form of essential oil. Diffuse it, spritz it on your pillow case before drifting off to sleep, use the oil on bug bites to stop the itching. If you have the flowers, fill sachets with them and tuck them into your drawers.
Below is a fun, easy way to venture into it's culinary uses. Try something new and explore how to make this aromatic herb part of your lifestyle.
4 cups of filtered water
1 cup sugar or honey
2 Tbsp dried lavender buds or 4 Tbsp of fresh buds
1 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
lavender sprigs for garnish
1. Combine water, sugar or honey, and lavender in a saucepan and heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to steep until cool, about 20 minutes.
2. Pour the mixture through a fine-screened colander or cheesecloth into a pitcher. Add the lemon juice and stir. Serve in glasses filled with ice and garnished with a lavender sprig or lemon wheel.
Recipe from The Lavender Lover's Handbook by Sarah Berringer Bader
I've heard many of you say that you can't grow orchids. Full confession: I've had my share of orchid frustrations, too, but I've been determined to figure out what I did wrong. Growing a happy orchid can't be rocket science! Let's unearth the secret to growing a happy, healthy orchid.
Before we begin, let's assume the orchids being referred to are Phalaenopsis (also known as moth orchids). They are the most popular and the most common orchids because they are easy to grow. First let's address when your new orchid arrives home. Most orchids do not need to be transplanted until it has finished flowering. However, if the roots are circling the pot or if the pot has no drainage, then it's best not to wait to repot.
CHOOSING A POT
Look for pots that have good drainage as orchids do not like to sit in water. Terra cotta pots work well because they are porous and allow the roots to breathe. Some orchid pots have openings in the sides that allow extra air circulation for the roots which is a good thing! Choose a pot that is one size bigger than the one it is currently in. Orchid roots like to be cozy in their home. Clean the roots off and place the orchid in it's new pot. Use an orchid bark mix. Most mixes have perlite and charcoal included with the bark.
WHAT ARE THOSE CREEPY TENTACLES?
Have you wondered about this? Those alien-looking things are not tentacles or roots that need to be pushed back into the pot. They are air roots and can indicate the health of the plant. Firm and fleshy is a good sign! And please don't cut them off - just let them be, hanging out above the pot.
Phalaenopsis Orchids are quite content in an east-facing window or any spot in a room that has bright, natural light.
WHAT ABOUT USING ICE CUBES?
As orchid guru, Marc Hachadourian, says, save the ice cubes for your drinks - not your orchids! The best way to water them is to take them to the sink about once a week and water from the top, letting the water flush through the bottom. Water less frequently in fall and winter and always check to make sure they feel dry before watering.
WHEN TO FEED THEM
Orchids need to be fertilized after repotting and when done flowering. Most orchid fertilizers are fairly balanced in their N-P-K levels to ensure that leaves stay dark green and to promote flowering. Try to use one with more phosphorus (a higher middle number) every 2-3 waterings to encourage new blooms.
HOW TO HELP THEM REBLOOM
This is the question I hear the most: How do I get it to bloom again? Here are a few tips:
1. First, if the flower stem has turned brown, cut it down to the base. If the stem is still green and the leaves and air roots are healthy, cut back the green stem just above the third or fourth node. It may send out a new shoot of flowers from that node. If the plant doesn't look terrifically healthy, then cut the green stem back to about an inch above where it rises from the leaves.
2. If orchids haven't bloomed for 6-12 months, move them to a cooler spot and continue to feed them with a bloom-boosting fertilizer.
Orchids like a humid environment, so group orchids together with ferns to raise the humidity level and/or keep the pots on trays of pebbles that are kept moist.
Those are the basics! If you want to learn more, I highly recommend these two books which are written for beginner orchid growers. Both are available here in the shoppe:
If growing orchids has frustrated you in the past, give it another try,
and let me know how it goes. Happy growing!
Hi, I'm Tracy - horticulturist, beauty-seeker, Word-lover, and blessed to be the owner of Bella Botanica. I also love to write about plants, gardening, and about my faith journey. Thanks for reading!