A friend asked me where I got my white, amazingly scented, double-flowered lilac tree the other day. I didn't buy it; it came with the farm when we acquired it. Perhaps a Mother’s day present, I’ll never now.
Our 18th century property was so overgrown, the first time we saw it we didn't even notice there was a house for only the barn was visible. Trees and rambles had moved in and invaded the living quarters. We cleared the house and the yard around it for months. By the end of fall, I could see the potential the land had to offer and I started dreaming what I would grow there.
In front of the house, I discovered an old lilac shrub in poor condition but with lots of shoots sticking out of the ground all around it. I pruned the lilac really hard, thinking that if it wants to grow, it will. Dug out all the suckers, potted them and forgot them on the side of the house for a few seasons.
What a surprise in the spring when my lilac tree bloomed. It was the old fashion kind of syringa, with white heads that looked like fluffy bunnies, and an heavenly scent that took me right back to my grand-mother's garden in Paris.
I jumped with joy when most of the potted lilac shoots rooted and turned into strong little shrubs. I eventually planted them next to the lavender field and waited, watching them grow slowly for four years. Finally, this May, the reward; they are all blooming, faithful to the parent plant.
These trees have sent shoots of their own, so guess what? in another four years I’ll have a lilac grove!
Last summer, I read a fascinating article in a French newspaper about Spittlebugs (philaenus Spumarius) also called Froghoppers, and how, because of these little Cicadas looking bugs, France lost its title of the world largest lavender grower to Bulgaria!
Well, Spittlebugs prosper in the US too and one of their favorite meals is lavender. Females lay eggs that hatch into nymphs that climb up the plants stems, which they puncture to feast on the sap. In the process, they create froth-like cocoons where they hide from predators (hahaha, but not from this predator!). The tiny critters (about 12 mm) while feeding, inject bacteria that will eventually kill the plants.
You know that you are hosting Spittlebugs in your garden if you see white foam clusters on your lavender plants that look as if a bunch of kids held a spitting contest around your plantations. When I find an occasional sack of spit on my lavender plants, I act right away before it spreads. So far it has never gotten out of hand.
Organic weapon # 1: Cold water spray to remove the bugs
Organic weapon # 2: hand picking (and crushing between fingers – gloves on) the nymphs and their spit. A little spray of 75/25 white distilled vinegar and water on the gloves before going to the next plant keeps the job clean.
I’m not losing my status of the only lavender grower in the Lehigh Valley to a tiny bug!!
Where are they? Under a thick blanket of snow lay my lavender plants. Will they survive? That’s the question I asked myself each winter while anxiously waiting for spring. In previous years, the snow acted as an insulating dome over the plants protecting them from harsh, freezing wind. But this year, frigid temperatures, way below average for our corner of Pennsylvania, have relentlessly been the norm for months. I am crossing my fingers (and my toes) and hope they will survive…
There's a French Revolution going on in my lavender field in the month of May. I have been be-heading hundreds of plants! But this story has a happy ending; my plants will grow strong and healthy because of it.