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Helen Chesnut Garden Notes: Lavender trimming leads to olfactory delight

Lavender keeps on going, with dried blossoms offering a compelling perfume — the perfect inspiration for holiday gifts.

The summer’s growth on one of my lavender plantings remains a puzzle. Lavender, in an assortment of different varieties, grows in several parts of the garden. Of them all, my favourite is a series of Provence lavender plants growing along the curved edge of a plot beside the path leading from the garden shed to the kiwi vines, a fig tree and raspberry canes, until the pathway ends at a series of compost enclosures along a side fence.

Though Provence is a typically vigorous variety, the plants had always kept reasonably compact. Not this year. For whatever reason, the wiry stems grew to twice their usual length. Plump wands of tiny florets were substantial enough to bend the stems over, into path territory.

The wandering lavender stems turned out to be a source of delight. On each of the countless times I walked that path over the course of the summer, brushing against the lavender released gentle wafts of perfumed air.

Then, along came the fall, with oddly warm, sunny October days — and my friend Caron, who possesses a splendid aptitude for shapely trimming of sub-shrubs like lavender and rosemary.

The clipping begun, I was faced with a decision: Do something with the removed stems, or not.

As I began carefully piling the long stems into a paper-lined wheelbarrow, the decision was made. The perfume emanating from the lavender was irresistibly compelling.

Because of the unusually vigorous summer growth, those few little bushes yielded an enormous number of tall flower stems. I filled the wheelbarrow several times over, and brought the stems into the house in batches, arranging them in six separate piles on sheets of newsprint placed on the living room floor, with one on the dining room table.

The project. Some people take coffee breaks. Currently, I’m taking frequent lavender breaks, that is brief escapes from office and garden work to rub the dried florets off the stems with my fingers.

Already, a large glass jar is more than half filled, and I’m not half done yet. Several heaps of lavender stems remain to process.

Lavender is known for its relaxing, calming effects. By the time I’m finished with the lavender finger-twiddling, I should be either in a state of utter bliss, or semi-comatose.

As the dried lavender piled up in the jar, my thoughts veered toward Christmas, and the possibility of making little sachets of the powerfully fragrant florets as gifts.

For suitable fabric to use, I scrabbled through a basket housing a variety of treasures and came up with several pieces of cotton in a pattern of tiny flowers in lavender, blue and aqua against a black background. The fabric was a gift from the family of my friend Myrette after she died. I’d helped with caring for her home while the estate was being settled.

Now joining the lavender stems on the dining room table is the fabric, my pinking shears, and strands of raffia. I’m ­taking great pleasure in making the ­little perfumed packets for family and friends, including my pot-luck group, of which Myrette was once a member.

One could say I’m sachet-ing my way toward Christmas.

A window view. As if to bless the lavender project, a broad-spreading Enkianthus shrub, long established in a slightly raised area directly opposite the dining room window, began to take on its autumn colouring as the lavender project was underway.

The foliage, as with most deciduous shrubs and trees this year, has been hanging on far longer than usual, filling the view through my dining room window with tiers of golden foliage.


Open house and market. Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, is hosting its annual Christmas Open House from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26, with a Makers Market featuring local vendors from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Details at ­

Evolving Gardens. The Master Gardeners Association of B.C. will be presenting a “Mixing It Up” conference Saturday, Jan. 21, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. The day’s theme is “Evolving Gardens.” Five local speakers will address the challenges of climate change with a focus on resilient plants, “foodscaping” the home environment, understanding soil, and more. Details and registration at Up to Nov. 30, the cost is $80. After that, it is $100.

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