Akos and the Lavender


| April/May 2005

I’ve always resisted learning the metric system, probably out of pure stubbornness. I know clearly what our measurements look like: I can measure an inch with my fingertip and I know how far I’d have to walk to go a mile. But ask me to point out a millimeter, a kilometer or most any other metric term, and I get no mental picture.

Centimeters though, present a clear image in my mind, thanks to a lavender disaster one March day several years ago.

For quite a few years, I used to host foreign exchange students, who came to work with me and learn my methods of herb growing and marketing. Usually in their 20s, these students held degrees in agriculture and were reasonably fluent in English, so communication usually was not a big problem.

Akos was my first exchange student, who arrived that day in March from Budapest, Hungary. I got him settled into a little apartment on my farm and within a few days began giving him work assignments in the garden.

His first assignment was to prune my lavender plants, readying them for spring. I explained how particular I am about my lavenders. Over the years I’ve learned that they require a raised bed in this climate; otherwise their roots rot and die. They want a bit of mulch, which I provide with pine needles — too much mulch will choke them, I explained to Akos. Every year they get a light application of garden lime, and never, ever, should one dig around the base of the plant. Lavenders have very shallow, easily damaged roots.

The young man stood patiently, nodding his head and eagerly trying to absorb everything I was saying. When I asked, “Do you understand?” he nodded with a polite, “Yes.”

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