WELL, ONE EXCELLENT event is over — Fourth of July. This weekend is another one on the Peninsula: Sequim Lavender Weekend, continuing through Sunday.
Go visit www.lavenderfestival.com to get all the details, but do not miss the largest lavender festival in North America — and for good reason.
So many people are impressed with the beauty, grace and diversity of lavender. There are at least 28 known species and countless varieties of the botanical genus lavandula, thus accounting for the vast number of sizes, shapes, colors and variegation of foliage.
It’s not an accident that Sequim and the Dungeness Valley have become the “Lavender Capital of North America.”
As those who read this column know, Olympic Peninsula weather is conducive for ideal production. The climate here is very forgiving. Our temperatures rarely stress out a plant by being too hot or too cold, provided you selected the right plant for the right location. In the case of lavender, or any other Mediterranean herb, that fact makes the Peninsula this plant’s heaven.
Mediterranean herbs not only adore sandy nutrient soils, they thrive in them. Rich, black-soil topsoil can be harmful to lavender plants. No worries on the Peninsula. Black, fertile topsoil is as rare as a four-week salmon season.
Lavender and its Mediterranean cousins also demand a very dry growing season. With our weather pattern and Sequim’s law against raining, lavender is grown here into an event that is one of the largest yearly happenings on the Peninsula and in the state.
On top of that, our extreme northern latitude means the sun’s rays are low to the horizon. This means “cool tolerant” lavender starts growing early in the year and persists well into the late fall.
This makes the plant mature slowly over an extended period of time and thus its essential oils achieve a high, concentrated quality. Commercially, lavender oil is used in a variety of products and fields, including perfume, medicine, cooking, aromatherapy and cosmetology.
The word “lavender” is derived from the Latin verb lavare (to wash) and was the favorite additive to bathing water used by the early Greeks and Romans. As Roman influence and dominance spread throughout Europe, so did the cultivation of lavender and it quickly became a favorite herb.
During the Middle Ages, lavender was thought to be the “herb of love,” considered both an aphrodisiac and a protector of chastity when sprinkled on a young maiden’s head.
Its fragrance was traditionally used in sachets to protect clothing from moths and to freshen sick rooms.
In the Dark Ages, Europe saw lavender being distilled for liberal use in masking the smells of stinking streets. When stories grew about the Glovers of Grasse, who used lavender to scent their fine leather apparel and were rumored to be free of the plague, the Europeans quickly began to carry lavender to ward off pestilence. Soon, lavender was doled out for hysteria, nervous palpitations and joint pain.
In World War I, it was used in smelling salts and as a disinfectant for wounds. Sir James Smith is quoted as commenting on an alcoholic tincture created for those “who wish to indulge in a dram under the appearance of elegant medicine.”
Today, lavender is a multi-billion dollar industry whose oil is found in most toiletry, cosmetic and perfume products.
The culinary world is quickly embracing lavender in a variety of cooking oils, jellies and spreads. It can be found in salads and flavorings, such as lavender ice cream.
Ornamentally, my industry and home gardeners are embracing this plant for its beauty, hardiness, longevity, ease of growing and resistance to insects and diseases.
So please, embrace this plant. Reach far back into history and start something new in your yard today. All of your senses will thank you.
And, stay well all!
Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).