Let It Grow Organic Gardens

And I resumed the struggle. -Vladimir

Friday, January 14, 2011

Elixers For Sale. Cheap.

Dare I?
Dare I order lavender plugs, say, from a quaint little herb nursery on the Olympic Peninsula or the Oregon Coast or outside of Brattleboro? Tiny little sprigs packed twenty or fifty to a tray, their little roots just forming and their whole lives ahead of them? I could have my choice of varieties: mysterious hybrids from the Mediterranean coast, native varieties enjoyed by Pliny himself, medicinal varieties guaranteed to mend a thousand ailments, and, alas, varieties that do not come true to seed.
They are replicated only from cuttings, cutting that trace a lineage through mother plant after mother plant straight back to the old country.
I've grown English lavenders from seed. Wonderful varieties like Munstead, Hidcote, Vera. Perfectly wonderful little plants covered in sweet smelling blossoms. Happy little plants that do everything a person would want of a lavender. They are varieties that are perfect in every way save one: their pedigree.
Namely, they are not Provence.
Provence is the name dropper's lavender.
It is believed to be higher in essential oils. More healthful. More therapeutic.
It is the prized varietal of the cognizenti, the must-have for those knowing themselves to be in the know, and is certain to create a favorable impression on plant vendors when it is asked for in hushed, knowing tones. Every year I have my Provence requesters. Less than once a week. More than once a month. Always answered with a negative. I sweep my hand over the plants I have and list the varieties. Which are always described as "nice" and left unpurchased on the table.
Provence garnered for itself the reputation of being the traditional variety, and is prized by those seeking to buy, for the price of a 4" perennial, an alternate identity. It is the variety for those who wish to believe that the very same plant growing outside their home is the same growing outside homes in France, great bouquets of which are scooped up by elderly peasant woman in kerchiefs and placed into wicker baskets on the front of bicycles. I, sadly, am able to provide my customers with neither the plant nor the costume drama. I'm wondering if I should change.
The backstory of flowers and herbs makes for a large part of their essence, as presentation does the meal. Today's lavender, alas, does not originate in the colorful settings we might wish it did. Plenty comes from the French countryside, but the lavender in your salve or soap or cookie is more likely to have originated in Texas, or Holland, or Japan. It's grown by the acre. Hundreds of acres. The commercially popular varieties change every few years, but the varieties chosen for today's herb farms are not those recommended by medieval herbals or village elders. They are the varieties that are most disease resistant in today's monoculture farming operations. They may not have the richest oil content or the most soothing aroma; they will stand up to mechanical cultivation.
I'm leaning toward growing on a few trays of Provence. They'll be a nice addition to the mix. I don't want to use them as a time machine, though. I don't exactly want a magic herb that will transport me back to the past. I just don't want to live in the present.


  • At January 17, 2011 10:38 AM, Blogger Dana said…

    I whole-heartedly support your consideration of the Provence lavender and think you might as well go for it. This is not because I really care specifically about Provence lavender- I pretty much like any lavender- but because I care about the situation you have portrayed- the longing of your customers for something of a heritage that most of us around these parts are lacking, therefore causing us to walk around with big gaping holes in our psyches that we try to either hide or fill with things like lavender from Provence. We are broken and if Provence lavender helps mend that, even for a moment or for a year or even if it doesn't work, there is honor in trying.
    I also would very much appreciate seeing you posed as an elderly French lady in a kerchief selling herbs in front of an old bicycle. You could probably borrow one from the recyclery. Ask for Zoe and tell her I sent you. And tell me when you will be performing as I will be there with genuine Swiss cowbells on.


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