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I just returned from a few days in Reno, Nevada, spending time with family. While there I visited a few gardens even though the temperature at times rose to 102 degrees.
A garden that took me by surprise was Lavender Ridge, a field of almost an acre covered in lavender, growing in straight rows. Though the blue flowers were just coming out, they will bloom till the end of August.
The garden sits on the edge of the city, with the hills of Reno as a backdrop. The owners have made the garden an ideal setting for weddings. The garden includes an area of chairs for the guests, a rock garden with a waterfall, and tables for the dinner following the ceremony.
It is however the sight of the rows of lavender that draws your attention.
I thought how people have used lavender in so many ways over the centuries.
In her book Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants 1640-1940 Denise Wiles Adams mentions the early use of lavender on the west coast in the mission gardens. Lavender, she writes, also served as an edging plant in nineteenth century American gardens.
An article in Rochester, NY seedsman James Vick’s 1881 issue of his Vick’s Illustrated Monthly said, “In Olean, Cattaraugus County, in the State of New York, I recently saw the finest plants of Lavender I think in America. They were in pots in the window-real beauties-as good as they are in Sussex, England…The Lavender is of ancient race and holds its rank in spite of all the new plebian beauties that have come in vogue.”
Even Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan in the 1880 issue of his magazine Gardener’s Monthly included an article entitled, “A Plea for the Old-Fashioned Lavender.” The writer said, “I remember a garden I visited frequently while I was in Southern Europe, and to me, one of the sweetest, prettiest things in it, was a hedge tenderly guarding the flower beds, a hedge, all silver and purple, of modest, old-fashioned Lavender.”
Then as if to remind his readers of how important lavender is in the garden, Meehan writes in the same issue, “Let us honor our gardens with this ancient patrician plant that stands in its simple suit of silver and purple, and claims a place among flowers that gold and scarlet can never fill.”
Lavender comes from the mint family and gardeners have long considered it both an herb and a shrub. Its blue colored spiked flowers provide aromatic oil. The gift shop at Lavender Ridge offered both lavender oil and soap for sale. The dried flowers are also fragrant.
A gardener needs to ensure certain growing conditions for lavender to succeed. Reno provides that setting because the plants in the garden looked quite healthy. Lavender thrives in full sun with sandy alkaline soil. The son of the owner told us an irrigation system helps at Lavender Ridge. There is not much to do in the garden, he said, except cut the plants back in the fall and keep the rows weeded in the summer.
I think what is so beautiful about lavender is to see it planted in rows or as a hedge. The Lavender Ridge Garden in Reno grows its lavender in that way. No surprise that the afternoon we visited a wedding was about to take place.