There’s nothing like lavender in full bloom to encapsulate the summer. The combination of soft colours, and the blurring that occurs when a plant is buzzing with insects is supremely happy-making – like the fuzzy skin of a perfect peach.
The flowers are now on the wane, and the bees have had their fill, so it’s time to get the snips out and chop them off, just at the point where the stems push proud of the main bush. You want the plant to divert its energy back into the roots, rather than making seed.
This is the first of a two-part lavender regime, and it’s definitely the easier bit. After this pruning I water and forget about the whole thing until the end of September (or October if I’m busy), at which point I go in and chop it back really hard. This always makes me gulp, but it really is essential if I want a cloud-like mound of lavender next year.
As to how far it’s safe to go, the rule is never to chop below where you can see new growth. This means that I’m usually reducing my plant by about half (and I am a cautious type). Side stems should be chopped a little lower than the central ones if you’re after billowing mounds, and then you can leave well alone until next spring, at which point your hideous brutality will be rewarded with new growth, the bees will return, and all will be forgiven and forgotten.
At some point in the game your lavender is going to get gnarly, and that’s natural; if left alone this plant loses its bushiness and becomes a grey trunk topped with flowers…a strong look, but not for everyone. I visited Le Manoir recently where they maintain a lovely lavender walkway leading up to the entrance. The gardener told me that they replace it every three to four years in order to keep it at an optimum height. They are bound by strict health and safety rules, and have to think about accessibility, and I’m guessing that you are not. Even so, replacing your lavender at least every five years is inevitable if you want that fuzzy show I spoke of at the top of this piece.
There are of course other ways of maintaining lavender, but if you are new to all this, I do hope it helps remove some of the guesswork!