Crafting a tradition in Oregon

A lavender gardener shares her favorite plants and a fragrant project

Margaret Sansone has always grown and cooked with fresh herbs. With the purchase of a 5-acre farm in Beaver Creek, Oregon, in 1980, her passion became a business--Phoenix Garden.

Her adventure into lavender began in 1981 when she met Adgie Hulse, then known as the Lavender Lady in Portland herb circles. Hulse had been growing lavender for the cut flower industry since the 1950s and taught classes on the medicinal and floral uses of herbs. When Sansone visited Hulse's 1/2-acre lavender field, she was stunned by the sight. "I had never seen that much lavender growing at one time," says Sansone. She was smitten.

Over the years, Hulse and Sansone became close friends and shared many lavender tips. "I got the idea for our lavender potluck from Adgie," says Sansone.

Since Hulse passed away 11 years ago, Sansone has been gathering her friends together for the summer lavender harvest in mid-July, "just when the bees start working the lower flowers," she explains. Each guest brings a dish (which usually has an herbal emphasis). The friends swap stories as they make wands (shown at right) using long-stemmed spike lavender. They've gotten very creative with the wands, explains Sansone--"particularly the way they weave in special ribbons."

Though she does sell her organically grown herbs, Sansone doesn't sell much of her lavender. She grows it just for its beauty and in honor of a special woman she once knew.

SANSONE'S FAVORITE PLANTS

Sansone grows 20 kinds of lavender in her garden, but three are particularly special to her.

L. intermedia 'Provence': "The beautiful blooms are very, very fragrant," says Sansone. Violet flowers. Grows 2 to 3 feet tall.

L. angustifolia 'Baby Blue': Compact; dark purple flowers in summer. Grows 12 to 14 inches tall.

Spike lavender (L. latifolia): Sturdy, 12- to 18-inch-long flower stems are superior for wands.

Phoenix Garden, Box 38, Beaver Creek, OR 97004; (503) 632-7865. Sells fresh herbs by appointment only.

HOW TO MAKE A LAVENDER WAND

TIME: About 30 minutes

WHAT YOU NEED

About 18 (or more) stems of lavender, at least 12 inches tall

3 yards satin or other ribbon, 1/8 to 1/4 inches wide

Use fresh lavender with unopened flowers. (To store stems for a day, wrap them in moist paper towels.) Harvest in the morning after dew has dried.

1. For a fat wand, use 50 stalks (25 double stems), weaving two at a time. For a slimmer wand (best for first-time weavers), try 18 stalks (9 double stems).

2. Strip off leaves. Line up flower heads so the bases of the heads are even.

3. Starting at one end of the ribbon, tie ribbon tightly around the base of the flower heads (left).

4. Turn stalks upside down and gently bend two stems at a time evenly over the blooms to surround the flower heads (right).

5. Weave the ribbon under and over the double stems (below left), pulling it very tight as you go (the lavender shrinks as it dries). Continue weaving until you reach the tips of the lavender blooms (you can also weave to the stem ends).

6. Wind the ribbon around the wand a couple of times, tie a slip knot, and cut the end. Using another piece of ribbon, tie a bow around the wand over the first knot.

7. Rub off any buds that stick out of the wand. Trim stem ends to the same length.