Lavender: Beauty, Bees, and Fruity Vinegar

With more than 150 feet of raised beds about three feet wide, plus another 25 feet of herb bed that lines along the south-facing wall of the house, our kitchen garden looks commodious. But every square foot of that soil is in demand during the growing season: plants have to prove their worth or they get replaced.
One thing that’s earned a permanent spot in the herb bed is this lavender. I grow two varieties, both English and both available from Renee’s Garden. Every summer their spikes of pale purple flowers scent the early morning garden with distinctive fragrance, attracting bees by the dozen, from big native bumblebees to imported honeybees and tiny native sweat bees. The bees the lavender draws to the garden go on to pollinate other plants, increasing our harvest of tomatoes, sugar snap peas, pole beans, strawberries and other delights.

I’d keep the lavender in the garden just for their beauty: the silvery green foliage, the wand-shaped flower spikes crowded with blossoms, and that warm and slightly spicy fragrance. The bees, like the native bumblebee foraging for pollen in the photo above, seal the deal on allocating scare garden real estate to lavender.

Last year I discovered another reason to grow lavender: It makes a delicious and delicately fragrant wine vinegar. Now I have a reason to hoard the tag-ends of any unfinished bottles of white wine, consolidating them with cheerful disregard for varietal or origin. When the lavender plants bloom, I cut a handful of sprigs and make lavender vinegar. Here’s the recipe:

1.5 cups white wine (any kind will do, the fruitier the better)
1 cup white distilled vinegar
3 stalks lavender flowers

Mix the wine and vinegar and pour into a clean bottle that can be tightly sealed. Place three stalks of lavender flowers, cut end up, in the bottle and pour the wine/vinegar mixture over them. Seal the bottle and let sit for at least two weeks. Makes a fruity vinegar with a delicious lavender scent. Great for marinating chicken or seafood, and as a dressing for fruit salads.

Like the lavender that flavors and scents it, the vinegar is beautiful too!

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