Monday, July 1, 2013

The Sweet Smell of Research

by Susanne "Brown Thumb" Dietze

I grow lavender right outside my office window. No lie: as I started typing, a hummingbird swooped down to steal a bit of nectar from the tiny purple blossoms. Bees love lavender, too. Just like me. It’s easy to care for (I don't kill it), it calms you down when you put it into your tea, and it smells fantastic in a drawer.

I wanted to include lavender in a big way in an upcoming novel. I’m no expert on it, though, so I decided to visit a few lavender farms for research. So far, I’ve visited a handful of farms in two states. The farms look a bit different, but let me tell you, they all smell the same. Sweet and fresh, with a hint of camphor.
File:Sequim WA Lavender Farm.JPG
Lavender Farm in Sequim, Washington, by Kgrr
Visiting farms is enjoyable for my whole family (even the guys, who were shocked to realize they had fun doing something so presumably foofy). We buy goat milk soap and sample lavender products, like lavender lemonade--a big hit with my kids. It’s not hard to make your own, either. Just steep dried lavender flowers in the sugar syrup in your favorite lemonade recipe. (For steeping just about anything, I use empty tea bags, purchased anywhere you buy loose leaf tea.)

Fortunately, I grow my own lavender. If you have your own lavender plants, you have a world of opportunity in your yard.

Trimming lavender is easy. Just cut down on the stem with trimmers or scissors. You want to harvest your lavender a few times a year, so don’t hesitate to cut away! Plop the stems in a vase to enjoy, or dry them by binding the stems with a rubber band and hanging upside down. I keep mine in paper bags so I don’t lose any dried blossoms.
Lavender at Casa Dietze
When they’re dry, all you have to do is gather the loose, dry buds in a sachet. Or make a tea by infusing a handful of blossoms in a pot of boiling water and steeping for ten minutes. It is said to calm anxiety and upset stomach.

Try a bath tea. Add a sachet of dried blossoms to your bathtub. Lavender is in a lot of calming aromatherapy products for a reason!

I love lavender oil, but naturally, I have to buy this from a grower. It takes about 600 lavender plants to distill a gallon of lavender oil—no wonder it’s expensive!

The hydrosol, or water mixture that remains after the distillation process, is a gem unto itself. It retains a lavender and camphor smell, and has multiple purposes. You can rinse your hair with it, apply to scrapes, and spritz it like a body spray. It lasts a year and doesn’t need refrigeration.

Looking to plant some lavender? There are many, many varieties, but here are a few I like:

Grosso developed in France and did not earn its name because it’s gross, as my youngest kid assumed. With tight silvery foliage, Grosso blooms like a hedgehog, with spikes all the way around, making it nice visual selection for your garden. It is also a popular culinary choice.
Impress Purple has a gorgeous deep color and is pretty when cut. It smells sweeter than other varieties, and does well in crafts.
Not as "hedgehog-like" in appearance as the Grosso, but Impress Purple sure is sweet
Provence also has a lovely color. The buds don’t stay on the stems well when dried, so it doesn't display well--but that attribute makes it easier to make sachets. I choose it for culinary use because when dry, it retains its dark purple color. I think it looks lovely chopped into sugar or cookies for a tea party.

a row of young Provence bushes
Melissa smells nice and has a sugary quality that’s great in cooking. Some love it to season lamb or chicken, substituting it for lemon pepper.

Hopefully I'll be a bit more realistic when I write my Lavender Heroine after all my lavender farm visits.

*Do you grow any herbs or flowers? Which are your favorite?
*How does hands-on research help you when you're writing?

Susanne Dietze is a 2013 Genesis Finalist who puts lavender somehwere in all of her stories. She's represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website,


  1. Cool info, Susie! I had no idea there were that many kinds of lavender.
    I attempted to sprout some from seed in my greenhouse this year, but it didn't come up. I finally just bought a plant and put it in the ground.

    A friend said she takes a couple sprigs of lavender and mint and puts them in her water bottle. I've tried the mint, but not the lavender yet.

  2. Niki, I have never thought of putting lavender in a water bottle. Cucumber, berries, and citrus, yes--but I like lavender in tea with chamomile, though, so why not?

    I have a hard time growing things from seeds. I tried 3 times with basil this year, finally gave up and bought a plant.

  3. Oh Susie, this is lovely as usual. I love to drive through Sequim when the lavender is blooming. It smells so good. But that' s they extent of my own personal lavender experience because I'm so allergic. I guess driving by in the car where the air will be clear in a few breaths is okay, but I can't be in the same room. This makes me sad because after citrus, lavender is my favorite scent. And it's so lovely to look at. I have a huge picture of a lavender field.

  4. I didn't finish that last thought. My picture of the lavender field is my inspiration for a contemporary novel I've set in Provence. And yes, my heroine is allergic. ;)

  5. Suzie, I had no idea you were allergic! That's sad! Of course your heroine must be allergic, too. I'm eager to hear more about your Provence setting!

    We stopped at a farm in Sequim the day you and I were supposed to meet (but the ferry wasn't running). It was right before the Lavender Festival and the farm was just beautiful.

  6. You are such a class act, Susie. You sip tea and I swill diet soda. I'm Ellie Mae compared to your Grace Kelly. I love flowers, gardens, etc. but since I kill all the plants I touch, I'm relegated to buying and admiring from a far.

    Miss you,
    Michele :)

  7. Oh Michele, I fell off the bumpkin truck a few miles before the Grace Kelly exit! You and I have spent so much time at Chuck E Cheese, you know what a nerd I am. Look at us now, both writing romance.

    I miss you too! Thanks for coming by the blog today!

  8. Oh, that's really interesting. I am a charter member of the Wilt and Kill Garden Club. If it grows, I can kill it. I think it's because plants, unlike cats, don't complain if they're not fed or watered or tended.

    I am a BED gardener. :D

  9. Oh DeAnna! :) Plants may not complain, but I'm convinced they give guilt trips. I'm looking out the window at some veggies that are wilting in the heat. They seem so resigned and passive aggressive about it.

  10. Gah! That was supposed to be BAD not BED.

    I'm obviously a BED speller, too. ;)

  11. I really enjoyed this post, Susie.

    I don't grow herbs now, but when I owned the greenhouse, I sold both perennial and annual herbs and planted whatever was left over. Our garden zone here is only 1b though, so the perennials never grew back.

    I tried the hardiest variety of lavender without success. :(

    Lavender is one of my favourite scents. :)

  12. i seem to have a black thumb. i would love to have an herbal garden. i'm in the process of attemting that, with no real good soil in our yard (think too much clay in soil). trying a container garden - again, black thumb *sigh*

    i LOVE all this information about lavender. never thought about ingesting seeped lavender. always thought it was a smell only plant. it is my mom's fave scent.

    wow. learn something new everyday.
    thanks for sharing!!!!

  13. DeAnna, I thought you had a nice garden bed. :)

  14. Anita, that's too bad about your lavender. What a disappointment that it never grew well in your area. I had a tiny lavender plant in a "tea tin" to grow indoors but it didn't work well.

    Most of my herbs are trying hard to go to seed right now.

  15. Hi DebH! Thanks for coming by. If you want to see what lavender tastes like, you can try a nice tea put out by Herbal Medicinals brand (my Target carries it). It's a chamomile lavender blend that is supposed to help calm a nervous tummy.


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