ISSUE 28  |  Bastille Day

Field Guide: Lavender

July 14, 2014 6:30 PM

BY Amanda Gutterman

Lavender; Lavandula: “The Practical Feminist”

Alice Walker once wrote that “womanist is to feminist as lavender is to purple.” As the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Color Purple, Walker can be considered an expert on both. Actually, lavender has long enjoyed a connection to even radical feminism. In 1969, Betty Friedan originated the phrase “the lavender menace” to refer to the militant, “man-hating” contingent that she feared would cause the women’s movement to be taken less seriously.

So how do we reconcile lavender’s radical stance with the fact that she loves taking part in household tasks? Ever since the Middle Ages, lavender has been a key ingredient in home medical remedies, fragrant nosegays to counter the odors of the street, perfumes and toilet waters, and countless cleaning products.

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Above: Photograph by Michael A. Muller for Gardenista.

To be sure, lavender is spicy and full of character. But she is also superbly helpful around the house and garden, taking pride in the spaces she calls her own. Lavender needs a room of her own. In either fall or spring, settle her into an outdoor spot that is two to three square feet. Water diligently at first, and soon enough she’ll be independent enough to impress even Friedan and Walker.


Above: One of our favorite summer recipes: DIY Lavender Soda. Photograph by Marla Aufmuth for Gardenista.

Cheat Sheet

  • A drought-resistant and evergreen herb, lavender provides year-round interest in the garden
  • Attracts bees and butterflies while warding off deer, which hate its scent
  • Shades of violet, blue, purple, and gray blend pleasingly with other colors in the garden


Above: Photograph courtesy of Peter Fudge. For more, see Garden Designer Visit: Lavender Fields in Australia.

Keep It Alive

  • Lavender grows naturally in the sandy, rocky soil of the Mediterranean; bits of gravel and brick will remind it of home.
  • Perennial in US growing zones 5-9
  • Give it full sun and from 2 to 3 square feet of space to spread


Above: Purple lavender and red gladiolus are happy companions. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla. For more, see Gladiolus: Rethinking a Funeral Flower.

A well-established lavender plant needs almost no attention, and performs double and triple duty. Known to help ward off incursions by deer, she is a good neighbor, happy to lend a hand to protect tender rosebuds and other pest-magnets. When summer arrives, lavender plants are festooned with bluish purple flowers that fill the garden with their sharp yet clean fragrance.

Lavender makes a great neighbor for other drought-resisting plants like yarrow, hens and chicks, and echinacea. Give them their own section of the garden and it will be easy to avoid overwatering them.

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Above: For more about lavender, see Required Reading: The Lavender Lover’s Handbook. Photograph by Jeanne Rostaing.