As a child we spent two or three weeks in France every year and I remember the gardens, the fields and the house filled with lavender. Nothing takes me back there quicker than holding a sprig of lavender to my nose and rubbing the flowers between my fingers. I did this during the photo shoot at Orchard Corner in Worcestershire. A single little spike got me through the day in a tranquil frame of mind that no amount of vexation could sully.
The calming properties of lavender are widely recognised and the aroma comes with great culinary promise – goat’s cheese, honey, poached apricots, buttery biscuits – as well as instant transport to the sun-drenched quiet of Lubéron fields in July, awash with blues, purples and indigos and a chorus of happy bees.
In the garden, soft and hummocky lavender is centre stage right now, bursting into a purple haze buzzing with bees. Bought on a whim and plonked somewhere unsuitable, though, it will soon become a casualty of its own allure, floundering over a cold, wet winter.
Avoiding this depends very much on the type of soil in which it lives: the ground must be gritty and free-draining (think Mediterranean hillside), rather than cloddish and muddy. Ensure that you add plenty of grit to the existing soil if necessary, so the roots never get properly wet and rot.
If you are planting a lavender hedge, it’s worth putting it on a ridge so that any lingering water drains away quickly. As for pruning, be bold but gentle. For English lavender, Lavandula angustifolia, begin by chopping off spent flowers once they are past their best (and the bees have had their fill), encouraging the plant to put all its energy into its roots, rather than creating seed. Chop again by two-thirds at the end of August, giving it time to harden up for winter. You will then be transported to Provencal heaven.