On harvesting lavender. 

I’ve always enjoyed gardening and plants, but I wouldn’t consider horticulture a hobby.  Each year on Mother’s Day, my mom and I spend the day together filling planters and pots around our yards with an assortment of flowers: my mom explaining which ones trail, which need full-sun, which will last though the dead heat of the end of July, etc.  She tells me about these details with ease, recalling a specific flower’s watering requirements that she hasn’t seen planted herself in years.  Her knowledge feels so effortless for her to recall that I had mistaken it as instinctual.

One day early this spring I set out to prune the three lavender bushes we have around our back patio. I hadn’t done anything to winterize them last fall and so come the first warm day in March I was eager to thaw my green thumb and tend to my plants. Being that they were planted last spring from starters, I had not yet had a full season with these lavender bushes and wasn’t sure about the need or the method to prune them.  Growing up we had large, beautiful lavender bushes that I didn’t recall specifically my mom pruning.

I reviewed a couple of google search results on the topic and got to it.  I pruned back, to near ground level, the first two plants.  It felt drastic.  Even with the minimal growth of a couple sunny days in March, it felt like I had taken more from them than reasonable. For the third plant I decided I’d take a different approach, experiment a little.  The third plant I trimmed only 1/4 of the bush size, and left the 3/4 of, what appeared to be, dead foliage.

A couple of weeks later as spring began to stand its ground, green buds started to display new growth.  The two plants I had given a solid prune displayed fragile, delicate growth, comparative in size to when they were newly planted.  The third plant, that I had experimented with, grew thick and robust new growth everywhere. It was clear, quickly, that I had in fact butchered back healthy lavender on the first two.  I hoped with some consistent sunshine the first two bushes would bounce back.

All three bushes continued to grow through spring and in to summer, in proportion to how I trimmed them.  This morning it was time to harvest the lavender flowers and the yield was proportionate as well.

The top rainbow of bundles all came from the third plant.  The first two plant produced, combined, the small handful at the bottom.

How disheartened I was when I saw this yield. I had good intentions for my lavender, and still, because I wasn’t sure of the difference between dead and dormant, I stunted their growth.  The understanding of horticulture can’t come from the internet, which is hard to believe in a time when “google it” is valid an answer to most questions.  (Remember, google found me the perfect midwife.)

Next season, I won’t prune as readily and I will be sure to listen with more reverence to my mom’s mastery of the secret world of plants.

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