SIDNEY — Members and guests of the Rainbow Gardeners met at the Nine-Mile Lavender Farm near Urbana recently for an informative talk and tour by owner, Angie Pumphrey.
Five years ago, after passing the farm for several years on her way to work, Pumphrey quit her job, and she and her husband made a decision to purchase the lavender farm and expand it. They added a beautifully landscaped pond and renovated the somewhat neglected lavender plants. New lavender and other Mediterranean herbs including sage and thyme were also planted.
Pumphrey discussed the specialized growing conditions needed to assure successful harvests. First of all, lavender should be planted in elevated hills with organic matter, limestone and sand added to create the soil that lavender prefers, she said. The slight elevation helps keep lavender dryer by exposing it to wind. Mulching with gravel keeps moisture from collecting at the crown while reflecting heat. It also makes pulling weeds much easier. Lavender doesn’t do well in clay soil because of poor drainage.
During their first year, young lavender plants should not be allowed to bloom. The focus should be on developing a strong root system and a compact plant. Although there are several cultivars, two of the best for this area are English lavenders (augustifolia), Hidcote and Munstead. Both are hardy for the Zone 6 climate, and both are less susceptible to diseases caused by high humidity.
Growing lavender from seed is a lengthy and often unsuccessful process. It is far easier to take cuttings from the green part of the plant in the spring. The cut should be made just below a nodule. Strip the leaves from the bottom of the cutting and remove any flowers. Dip the end in a powdered rooting hormone or willow water, a natural rooting hormone. Place the cutting deep into a container filled with potting mix or vermiculite. Check for root development after two weeks by tugging gently on the top part of the cutting. Allow roots to grow for about a month, after which time it should be ready to plant.
Layering is another method of propagation. This is done by bending a stem down to soil level and scraping off a bit of the stem where it meets the ground. Hold it in place with a garden staple or rock. Roots will develop where the stem touches the ground. After a few months, the new plant can be cut from the parent plant and transplanted.
Division is the third way that lavender can be propagated. Mature lavender plants can be divided in late winter or during the dormant stage. If the plant is very old or almost dead anyway, this can be a way of reviving it. Pumphrey added that some growers are able to take cuttings and root them in water, but she has found that this doesn’t seem to work well for her.
There are very few insect pests and diseases that affect lavender, but Pumphrey has found damage from bird’s nests, rabbits, moles and Canada geese. She keeps ducks in her pond which tend to discourage, but not eliminate, Canada geese. Rain and lack of sunshine are the worst conditions, since lavender will not bloom if it gets too much rain.
Mature lavender plants flower for three to four weeks in June or July, at which time stems can be cut for drying or used fresh in potpourri, soaps, oils and in cooking and baking. Pumphrey specializes in making essential oil and an array of cosmetics and soaps from the lavender she grows. Starting with a batch of fresh lavender blooms that are picked early in the morning, she uses a still with distilled water and a separator. Water is brought to a temperature of 200 degrees, at which time it steams. The oil and water are then allowed drip into separate containers. Each batch takes 20 to 30 minutes to make. The leftover lavender in the brew pot is cooled and used as mulch.
Additional uses for lavender include insect repellant and anti-itch oil, relaxing or calming aid, cooking and baking ingredient, additive for bath water and laundry, antiseptic and anti-bacterial agent, dry or chapped skin reliever and many more. Dark lavender flowers and buds without stems are generally used in foods; lighter lavender with optional stems are good in soaps.
Rainbow Gardener President Janice Michael reported that the Shelby County Fair Flower Show schedule had been misprinted in the premium book. The overall rules and the listing for specimens is correct, but all of the artistic designs were listed from 2017.
The theme for this year’s flower show is “The Secret Garden,” and correct categories for 2018 are as follows:
Adult Artistic Design, Class 1105
1. The Golden Key: a design using gold
2. The Garden Walls: a vertical design not to exceed 30” in height
3. Brown and Weedy: a design using primarily dried materials
4. In a Row: a horizontal design not to exceed 30” in length
5. Hidden from View: Designer’s Choice
6. Spring Awakening: a green monochromatic design
7. A Budding Friendship: a design using two or more connected containers
8. A Daily Walk through the Garden: a multi-rhythmic design
9. Leaving India: using tropical
10. Heather on the Moors: a design using purple plant material
Junior Class Artistic Design, Class 1106
1. A Little Girl in a Big House: a small design not to exceed 8 inches in height or width
2. A Disobedient Child: Designer’s choice
3. Robin Redbreast: a design using red
Visit the Rainbow Gardeners’ Facebook page or contact a member for more information.