Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Losing Lavender

“Summertime,” I said reclining on the outdoor lounger.
“Hmm,” Mr. Wonderful said from his garden chair.
“Look at our geraniums, the bird of paradise, the rosemary—” 
“Everything’s gorgeous and blooming!”
“Not the dead lavender.”

I first experienced lavender traveling through the South of France with Mr. Wonderful.  Together we witnessed the endless fields blanketing the region in a purple haze and lending the air a sweetly clean fragrance.  It was there that we fell in love… with lavender.  For our honeymoon we returned to the South of France to confirm our love… for lavender.  After spending those blissful weeks together we knew it would be a lifetime love affair…with lavender.

Lucky for us Southern California’s climate was similar to that of the South of France, minus the French snobs.  Instead we had Hollywood OMG wanna-bes.  Life's full of trade-offs. 

Horticulturalists call our SoCal region “Lavender and Lazy”, which comes from their planting recommendations: 1) You plant lavender; 2) You do nothing to it ever again.  Lazy is me!  What a fun garden plan!  Vive la lavande!  After we bought The House I ripped out a whole garden bed and replanted it with lavender—an entire bed of only lavender.  Just sniffing the air transported me back to our honeymoon where we fell madly in love…with lavender. 

The plants grew in the spring and thrived until June, which is exactly when we added one more lavender plant to the bed.  That lone plant came from the nursery with some brown stems on it.  Mr. Wonderful said the brown would go away with some watering.  By August the brown stems had overtaken the entire loner plant, and spread to six others transforming them into tumbleweed skeletons.  Worst of all was that the brown was creeping toward our remaining 10 healthy plants.

OMG.  I needed a fix.  Fast. 

Online I found websites dedicated to the plant, like, which had an active community of lavender lovers who posted hourly updates about their purple plants with Instagram photos.  When I explained my dead situation and how it was spreading, the site’s posters all said the same thing, “You’re watering too much.”

“Impossible”, I said under my breath then read on—

“Maine summers are moist—”  Maine?!  I stopped in my tracks.  Maine’s rainy climate is ideal for growing rocks, in fact some of the finest rocks in North America are grown there.  But not lavender.  Scouring the website I noticed that everyone posting on Lavenders-B-Us resided along the Atlantic coast where a “Summer” in Maine was like the wettest winter in Southern California.  And a “Winter” in Maine was a dark, cold, frightful nightmare.  There’s a reason Stephen King lived and wrote in Maine and not sunny southern California. 

After another Google search I found a California gardener’s website specifically for southern California lavender.  In answer to my problem every gluten-free person posting on that site said the same thing, “You’re watering too little.” 

“Impossible,” I said biting into my gluten-free hummus pita-wrap sandwich. 

“Southern California summers are hot—”  I know but they are the same type of dry, hot summers that have been happening in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years.  Watering too little?  When was the last time anyone read a story of Zeus or Hercules where they watered their lavender?  How about in The Iliad or The Odyssey—neither one mentioned watering lavender because lavender was ideally suited to the bone dry, hot summers Italy, Greece and Turkey have known since before Zeus, Homer or Jesus ever picked up a garden trowel.

Besides Mr. Wonderful and I used a drip hose on the lavender.  They got the water they needed. 

No, another problem was afflicting my lavender and the answer originated with one root.  The loner plant we brought home from the nursery had been tainted with a virus condition called “Wilt”, which was described as a “rapid wilting, browning and dying to lavender plants during the month of August.”  The only method to deal with Wilt was to remove the infected plants, the soil surrounding them and burn them.

Who said planting lavender was lazy?  Or gardening was fun?

This week I put on my gloves, gripped the shovel and removed the (now) 12 infected plants plus the surrounding soil.  Without them my lavender garden resembled a scorched volcano site; not the frolicking grounds of Greek gods, mythological heroes or French snobs. 

What I would give to see a French snob in my garden!

Not all love stories end happily.  I fell in love with lavender and… it broke my heart.  OMG.

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