NEWBERG, Oregon—I know that there’s work to be done in the lavender patch, so I rub a fragrant leaf of Agastache cana, which is called mosquito plant, on my forearms and neck to repel those determined insects. Whether or not it works on the mosquitoes, this action at least gives me peace of mind and lets me get on to the job at hand—harvesting the lavender before it’s over the hill.
I try to gather only enough lavender spikes to make up three or four lavender wands—an evening’s work. In lavender-wand making, freshness is everything. I’m still not sure why I make them, unless it’s a subliminal urge to have a vocational skill when I retire to the old folks’ home. (Do herb gardeners ever retire?)
I prefer to use lavandins, mainly Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence’, but ‘Hidcote Giant’, ‘Seal’, ‘Abrialii’, and ‘Super’ also work well, and each gives its own characteristics to the wand’s shape or fragrance. Grosso gives me a better-shaped wand with a pleasing but slightly camphorlike fragrance. The flowers of Provence tend to shatter more than the others while being manipulated, but they provide the sweeter and more traditional fragrance that people expect in a lavender wand.
As I grow older, I find that I can handle the intense lavender fragrance for only so long. After a while, my nose shuts down and disregards the sweet component, picking up only the bitter, camphorous scent. But because harvest time usually lasts only two weeks, I have to work quickly, weaving as many wands in that time as I can. From one year to the next, though, I somehow forget the arthritic pains that always plague my hands afterward and which no doubt will be a greater liability when I finally get to that old folks home.
I am familiar with the lamentations and despair of newcomers to the art of lavender-wand making and offer a few tips to ease their frustration. Problem: “My flower spikes all break when I bend them over.” Solution: Use absolutely fresh material. Problem: “I don’t see how you ever get it to work at all. I tried my lavender plant and . . .” Solution: Avoid L. angustifolia varieties and use only L. x intermedia varieties. Problem: “I can’t get it to weave.” Solution: Use an odd number of flower spikes; start with thirteen. Far better than trying to follow directions from a book is to ask someone who has woven a wand before to show you how. Problem: “Mine doesn’t look as good as yours!” Solution: Practice, practice, practice! Also, I use 1/4-inch satin ribbon instead of a cheaper ribbon as a weaver; if I am going to put my time and energy into making a wand, I want it to look good.
I come from a family of weavers and find the wand-making process therapeutic and relaxing, at least up to a point. I still can’t figure out why my wife, Melissa, who used to make great wands and even helped develop a lavender-wand basket that we use as a Christmas tree ornament, refuses to make them anymore. She says it’s the children, but I think she has an attitude problem.