Sunday, September 02, 2007

Meet Lulu Lavender

We have a new member of the family.

Gary and I both have black thumbs. I've always killed any houseplant I owned, usually by anxious parenting in the form of too much water, and we haven't had any luck with our yards, either. We had grass in our tiny front yard for a while, but despite Gary's best efforts, it kept going patchy and brown, so we finally replaced it with rock (which makes more sense in this arid climate anyway). Our back yard was a wilderness of weeds when we bought the house, and right now, it's just dirt. Gary tears up all the cheatgrass every spring to create a fire-defense zone around the house, and we haven't tried to plant anything else. Conventional lawns take too much water, and we don't have the money for xeriscaping.

Various plants on our property are thriving: Lars, the giant juniper in the front yard; Sven, the pine tree on the other side of the driveway (which was waist high when we moved in nine years ago, and now towers well over our heads); a few stubborn tulips out back; a scraggly peavine in one corner of the backyard. But they do so well because we resolutely ignore them.

But I love lavender in almost any form. About the only non-bargain-basement bodycare product I use is a delicious (and expensive) body-butter cream from Ali'i Kula Lavender in Maui, and I'm always jealous of friends who have lavender growing on their property.

So yesterday, we went to Trader Joe's. They were selling potted lavender.

I smelled the lavender. I swooned. I dithered. It would be ridiculous for me to buy a plant; I'd just kill it. I smelled the lavender again, dithered some more, spoke to a helpful sales clerk who explained that I'd have to put the plant in the ground, or in a bigger pot -- oh, yikes! -- spoke to Gary, who said, "It's your responsibility; I'm not having anything to do with it" ("If you bring that puppy home from the pound, you have to walk it, do you hear me? Puppies are a lot of responsibility!" "But Daaa-aaad, it's so cute!"), and finally bought the lavender plant, whom I christened Lulu.

The clerk at Trader Joe's said that in-ground lavender doesn't always survive our winters, so when we got home, I found a helpful website on Growing Lavender in Containers and then dashed off to Home Depot to buy supplies.

According to the website, I shouldn't get Lulu too much larger a pot than she was already in, because lavender actually likes tight root spaces. Once I found the right size pot, though, I faced my next challenge: terra cotta? Plastic? One of the gorgeous ceramic pots?

I finally decided on plastic, because it had the most drainage holes, which the website said was important. If I bought Lulu a fancy pot and then she died, I'd feel extra awful. So this is Lulu's training pot, and I'll get her a nicer one next year, if she lasts that long.

Next: soil. Oy! Home Depot sells fifty million kinds of soil, and they all seem to come in forty-pound bags. Plus the website said that lavender likes "fluffy" soil, and I couldn't find any with that consistency on the label. I finally stumbled onto a side aisle with bags of organic potting soil I wouldn't need a forklift to move, and got one of those.

But the bag said that the soil already included plantfood, and the website had said that plantfood should be mixed with the soil during repotting. What to do? What to do? I couldn't find a clerk, but I found a kind fellow customer who told me that she always uses plantfood, but only half the manufacturer's recommendation.

So that solved that problem. The only thing left on the list was gravel for the bottom of the pot, to provide extra drainage. But gravel at Home Depot comes in forty-ton bags. The sales staff swore there were smaller ones, but couldn't find any; finally they just let me scoop up some loose gravel, for free, from a bag that had broken.

Home with my purchases, I set about repotting Lulu, a task I think I completed successfully, although I made a bit of a mess in the process. The plantfood directions said to put it on top of the soil, rather than mixing it in, but once Lulu was repotted, there wasn't much room to spread plant food. I got some in around the edges, though.

So we'll see how she does. The website said that lavender shouldn't be watered every day: "not too wet, but not too dried out, either." Oh, that's helpful. Could you be a little more imprecise? I'm going to aim for every third day, to try to avoid my usual overwatering trap.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to drinking my morning coffee out on the deck in the glorious smell of lavender. I'm not sure what I'll do with Lulu in the winter, especially if it snows; put her out on the covered front porch, probably, since if she were inside, she'd definitely meet speedy death-by-cat.

So wish me luck, everybody. I told Gary I felt like I'd brought home a new kitten; he rolled his eyes and said, "Well, at least you won't have to rush it down to Animal Emergency if it gets sick."

Hmmmm. I wonder if there are emergency plant doctors?


  1. Congratulations on your new aromatic plant, Susan! And good luck!

    If you are willing to get small amounts of dirt under your fingernails every day or two, I suggest you learn how to do the feel test on soil for moisture content. Stick a finger down into it and if it is damp (not wet or sopping) within the first 1/2 to 1 inch (your first knuckle) and the pot feels as if it has some weight to it then you probably don't need to water. If it is dry and the pot feels light then definitely water.

    I'll envision you having lavender blossoms floating in your bath this spring.

  2. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Susan, We have two kinds of lavender in our yard which do very well on neglect 24/7/365. Even with the 7 feet of snow we had that one winter, the lavender came out in the spring. So, I bet you too, can grow it. Just find a place that it will enjoy, and be aware that honey bees, bumble bees, and occassionally, wasps love it.


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