Unearthing a Secret Garden

House & pet-sitting for a friend this last weekend, I was even more aware of the flora growing in a new neighborhood. Walking their wee white Maltipoo, we stopped often: he pulled at the leash, eager to tree a squirrel, I paused mid-step to smell the lavender, to take photos of the foliage. Being in new surroundings offers a sense of discovery, reminding us to pay attention to the ordinary, to the plants and views that regular walkers of the block might pass by.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”   –Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Paying close attention, especially along our routine, well-worn paths, we can open our eyes to secret gardens we’ve never seen before: to discover the beauty in the weeds, to take time to clear space for something to flourish in the overgrown, crowded space near the sidewalk.

What would you plant in a corner of your garden, to remind you to pay attention?  I love lavender.  Not just for the smell, but it looks a little wild, a little untamed, even in the most groomed garden. At the same time, it always seems quite proper to me, perhaps because I associate it with English gardens and thus the kind of tea parties where women wear hats.

Despite my clearly scientific ideas about the plant, an online search landed me at LavenderFarm, where I learned that ‘the ‘English’ lavender varieties were not locally developed in England but rather introduced in the 1600s, right around the time the first lavender plants were making their way to the Americas.”

According to MindBodyGreen, lavender is the only essential oil you need, an aid in everything from a minor burn or bee sting to dandruff.  And as many know, it adds flavor to baked goods, goat cheese, teas, salad dressings, and more.  How do you use lavender to flavor your food?

Take a look at GrowOrganic to learn about planting your own lavender. They recommend the English variety as the most hardy, fragrant, and tasty, and note that “All lavenders require full sun, good drainage and alkaline soil. If your soil tends toward acid clay then one-quarter of the total planting soil should be compost, along with a small amount of gravel to assist drainage. If bought as a plant, the lavender should be sited on a mound or slope so that excess water runs off. Water weekly in the first summer, and then every three weeks in following summers.”

Another purply, fun fact from LavenderFarm? It “was grown in so-called ‘infirmarian’s gardens’ in monasteries, along with many other medicinal herbs. According to the German nun Hildegard of Bingen, who lived from 1098-1179, lavender ‘water, –a decoction of vodka, gin, or brandy mixed with lavender–is great for migraine headaches.”

I feel a migraine coming on, don’t you?


(Photos from my walk in Silver Lake / Los Feliz)