Living in Chicago, post-college, as a born city girl I was comfortably familiar with sidewalks and pavement. Five of us aimless graduates had found ourselves in a subletted townhouse in the hip (read: newly gentrified) part of town, working crappy jobs and entertaining ourselves. I decided to paint my own room purple, but when I got to the hardware store something somehow went awry and I ended up coming home with a gallon of hot pink paint. So, hot pink it was.
I had to change the lighting scheme to make the walls less assaulting. The north-facing window kept the room gently illuminated, but not enough to raise a plant. My first apartment out on my own needed a plant. So I bought two round clamp lights and clamped them to my desk pointed down, where the chair that I didn’t have should have gone. For some reason at the time (a longing for greenness in a sprawling wintertime metropolis, I know now) I bought two terracotta pots and two packs of seed. One, a packet of wheatgrass that I routinely crouched on the floor and chomped on, the other lavender. I think I picked it for its calming properties. I knew nothing about growing anything from seed, especially a perennial.
The wheat grass provided almost instant satisfaction. A red pot of lush green grass growing in my bedroom in the middle of winter in a cold windy city gave me a fair amount of hope for spring. The lavender was another story. A seed finally managed to germinate; a tiny pair of cotelydons in this rather big pot looked a bit ridiculous. Even after a few months and a few branchings, the stem was so flimsy it looked like a soft breeze would destroy it. It smelled kind of lavendery though.
It was time to leave Chicago in springtime. I yearned for a more natural setting, maybe mountains, definitely fields, maybe growing more things, maybe even outside. Unfortunately I couldn’t take my new plants on the airplane, and I didn’t want to leave them behind. After all, they’d helped me make it through the winter. My father went above and beyond and drove from Washington DC to Chicago to bring me and my plants back east.
Soon I began working on a farm, growing all sorts of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, apprenticing with an herbalist in the middle of the Blue Ridge in Virginia. That crazy and crotchety herbalist, Annie, still reminds me of my ‘interview’ with her; apparently I confided, “I need green,” and although I don’t remember rehearsing those words, I know that is how I was feeling. The two pots under my desk in Chicago had whet my appetite for growing things. After a summer living in a tent on Annie’s farm, I was hooked. I let the wheatgrass and its pot retire, but I somehow kept that spindly little lavender alive.
The follwing spring I moved up near Ithaca, NY for further schooling in herbal medicine. I brought the little guy with me, of course. I knew nothing of soil nutrition or fertilizer, but the lavender clearly had the will to live and I was committed to watering it.
I landed a job on an organic vegetable CSA farm. My coworker Dave was one of the first people I met in this new place, and he invited me over to dinner one night to hang out with him and his ladyfriend Liz. They’d lived in the same house for a few years straight, something I’d never heard of for someone my age. They were serious cooks, and instead of bringing a botched casserole or an uninspiring salad, I decided to bring the lavender as a gift. I kept the terracotta pot for myself but took out the seedling and little clump of soil around the roots and stuffed it in a plastic 4-inch pot from the farm. I cleaned it up a bit and deemed it a nice housewarming gift. The thing looked so weak I was almost relieved it was off my hands.
Dave and Liz eventually bought their own house a few years later. When I came over to that home for the first time, Liz gave me a tour of their new garden. She pointed to a massive bush, and said, “And this is the lavender you gave us.” My jaw dropped. The plant was almost as tall as me; granted, rather petite as far as people go, but a huge flowering bush as far as northeast lavender goes. We were so far from that little pink room in Chicago, but here we were face to face again, old friends, almost ten years down the road. Now we have both put down roots here in the Finger Lakes, and it feels right.