A lavender life
My friend Diane Carter lives a double life. By day, she heads administration for a huge health care organization. But on the weekends and evenings, you can find Diane submerged in lavender – one acre of it. Let’s just say it’s a toss-up between Diane and the bees. Not sure whether she or the thousands-strong bee population is more smitten with the lavender’s intoxicating fragrance. Today, all things being equal, the human admirers of ‘Provence’ and “Hidcote’ were definitely outnumbered by the pollinators.
Diane and I met about 18 months ago through Ventura Co. Master Gardeners. She had taken several years off from the corporate life to pursue her personal passions, including gardening. Diane and her fellow MG-friend Janna Calkins kind of adopted me after I wrote about their community gardening efforts for 805 Living magazine.
I kept hearing about the hillside property below Diane’s house in Malibu and was impressed to learn she had planted row upon row of lavender there (replacing an overgrown hillside of weeds). The ocean climate in Malibu seems well suited for growing this woody, Mediterranean herb. Diane’s soil is relatively sandy and has excellent drainage. After just three seasons, now that they are established and mature, the 400-plus lavender plants are thriving with little or no water.
Diane is committed to 100-percent organic farming practices.
She buys lavender starts from a California grower who supplies her with organically-raised lavender and lemon verbena (which Diane confesses to loving even more than she loves lavender – one whiff and you’ll understand why!)
Diane also believes in utilizing every part of the plant. This time of year, lavender is being harvested like crazy. Some of it will go with Diane tomorrow morning to the Malibu Farmer’s Market where fresh-cut bunches will delight locals.
Other bunches will hang from racks in her garage-studio to dry for future floral crafts and potpourri projects.
After harvesting the fragrant sprigs, Diane even gleans the leftover stems, bundling and drying them for use as fireplace starters. Dried flower heads are broken up to create the heady filling for sachets. Dreamy, all of it.
I’m looking forward to returning on July 4th for Diane’s peak-of-season harvest party. I’ll try to use some of the harvesting tricks I learned from her today.
Diane uses a No. 8 scythe to cut fresh lavender. The tool looks ancient, from the old-world, long before the arrival of electric clippers or gas-powered trimmers. You grip a bunch of lavender in your hand and use the C-shaped metal knife, with a serrated blade, to saw off the long, slender stems. If you make an “O” with your index finger and thumb, that’s approximately the size of a lavender bunch.
So lucky me, I left Diane’s with about 10 generous bunches of lavender – Provence – harvested at her farm today. On my way back home, I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up groceries. That’s when I noticed the 5-stem bunch of California-grown sunflowers. Hmmm. It seemed like the perfect combination: Lavender plus Sunflowers. Enjoy my bouquet. It smells as good as it looks.