Down to Earth: The Lavender Wand

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I love landscaping with rock, and over the years, I’ve hauled more tons of it than my poor muscles care to remember.

The rocky soil of the Ozark Mountains (a combination of gravel, flint, and limestone clay) provides ample landscaping material, as well as good growing conditions for lavender, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and other Mediterranean herbs. I’ve built rock walls around at least twenty raised beds, paved paths with flat rocks, and laid the floor of my gazebo with rock. My fish-pond is lined with rock, and garden benches constructed of long, flat rocks are placed about my property.

In the summer of 1985, I severely injured my back while landscaping a public herb garden, a job that required large quantities of rock. Unable to walk without assistance, racked with pain, and filled with self-pity, I spent weeks in bed, staring up at the ceiling. The doctor told me that it would be almost three months before I could go back to work. My livelihood was landscape design, and I worried about what this inactivity would do to my life and career.

One afternoon in July, crazed with boredom and missing my garden, I dragged the chair that I used as a walker out to the garden. I just sat and stared at the surrounding beauty. For the next several days, I continued to sit and stare, wondering what I was going to do. I felt desperate. I was gripped by the fear that I would never be able to work in my garden again.

A row of lavender in full bloom caught my attention. I managed to reach down and pick a large handful of stems. The aroma was so refreshing, and it seemed to relax me instantly. I wondered what I could do with the stems, now that I had picked them. Over the next few weeks, I experimented with weaving lavender wands. Once used to scent the wooden boxes in which ladies stored their gloves and linens, lavender wands now seemed to me to be nothing more than a pretty, fragrant novelty.

What a silly craft for a grown man, I thought to myself. But there I was, unable to work, consigned to stare at my garden from a chair; and there was a 30-foot row of lavender, heavy with purple spikes. I couldn’t eat it, and I didn’t yet know that I could stuff pillows with its blossoms, so I gave wand weaving a try.

I followed the instructions in an old book on flower crafting, but my first wand was a decided failure. I was a bit disgusted with my inability to complete this supposedly simple project. But I was determined not to be beaten by a handful of lavender and a bunch of silly ribbons.

As I slowly taught myself to weave ribbons through the spikes in a simple basket-weave pattern, I found that using ­seventeen or nineteen lavender stems worked best for my hands. That summer, I finally mastered the skill and accumulated eighty-three good wands ranging in length from 12 to 17 inches.

The lavender wands became more than just something to do to pass the time. They became a mental challenge for an idle summer. I soon found markets for the wands, and what had been useless busywork during a discouraging summer became an introduction to the herbal-products market.

Lavender’s soothing fragrance has been used to ease headaches, drive away nightmares, and lift spirits for centuries. During that summer, as I wove lavender day after day, I began to relax. I made plans; I found hope. I started visualizing new things to do with rocks. Little by little, my back improved, and eventually I could walk down the road without dragging my chair along for support. I spotted rocks to bring to my garden for new projects.

As I think about it now, I feel sure that my summer spent under lavender’s spell gave direction and inspiration to everything that came after. It was good therapy, but perhaps more important, it introduced me to a whole new side of herbs.

Jim Long is an herbalist and the owner of Long Creek Herb Farm in Oak Grove, Arkansas.

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