Round Robin: Collecting Lavandula Angustifolia

NEWBERG, Oregon–The problem with being an herb collector is that as soon as I hear about a new plant, I simply must have it. My wife, Melissa, thinks I’m overzealous in my pursuits, and I must confess that I go through my genus phases. One year, I might try to collect all the nepetas, the next year all the santolinas. I am especially keen to collect new lavender and rosemary varieties. When I heard of three new lavender varieties developed practically in my own backyard by Don Roberts of Albany, Oregon, I drove down to investigate. I discovered Premier, Sachet and Buena Vista, all cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia and all reputed to be extremely winter-hardy (to -5°F) given good drainage and full sun. Bred initially for their high lavender oil content, they became available commercially due to their ornamental value. I couldn’t resist adding these three new lavenders to my collection.

Premier is a robust grower with broader, brighter green leaves than most other angustifolia varieties. The flowers are a good purple but on strong stems, which make for better fresh cut or dried bouquets. My potted stock plants of Sachet drew many favorable comments from visitors for their symmetrical bushy growth habit much like that of Jean Davis. Sachet’s lavender flowers are highly scented and would be excellent in potpourris. Melissa ­favors Buena Vista for its dark flowers and good rebloom as late as early ­November.

As a child, I often accompanied my grandmother to weekly antique auctions, and I must have learned bidding savvy and the bug of collecting by osmosis. Rocks, coins, stamps–I collected them all at one time or another. For me, the pleasure of collecting is in the pursuit. My most recent foray was to the biennial antiquarian and rare book fair in Portland. (Did I tell you I also collect herb books?) There must have been about forty booths in the show. The vendor in the second booth I went to had nothing to show me but a copy of an Aztec herbal, a 1940s photographic facsimile of an original 400-year-old herbal. The printing was excellent and the color reproduction outstanding. It was tempting, but it was in Latin (with an English translation in the back), and I don’t normally try to grow plants from south of the border. The price of the book was a deterrent, and like any other level-headed collector, I was not going to buy impulsively at the second booth I stopped at. I saw only one other herbal, a beautiful two-volume set by Greene, whom I had never heard of; but when the flyleaf revealed a $3000 price tag, I very carefully placed it back on the shelf. I returned to the Aztec herbal and teetered on purchasing it but resisted.

I returned home a bit disappointed that I had nothing to show for my trip, but when I opened my mail, I was astonished to discover Steven Foster’s article in The Herb Companion (October/ November 1994) on the very book that I had held in my hands only hours before, the facsimile of the Aztec herbal! When I told Melissa, we agreed that fate wanted me to have it but I had been blind to its call. Another vendor had said that the copy was underpriced and I doubted whether it was still there, but I decided to call the bookseller anyway. Fate prevailed, and I am now the proud owner of a facsimile of the Badianus Manuscript!

Andy Van Hevelingen operates Van Hevelingen Herb Nursery in Newberg, Oregon.

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