5/16/2012

Hillary Clinton and the Lavender Wand

Hidcote Lavender
My history with lavender goes back many years. Back in the early 1980s, I was hired by the  Committee of 100 to research and develop a public herb garden at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas. The then director, now deceased, did not want an herb garden on "his" grounds and did everything he could to prevent its implementation. However, the Committee of 100 was a group of 100 wealthy and/or influential women who raised a lot of money for the Folk Center's projects, and he had to at least give lip service of going along with the project, at least to the women's faces. But to me, just a landscape architect and over-all herb guy, he gave as little support and as many headaches as he could. To that end, the stone masons I was promised and supposed to oversee for the structure of the gardens, never appeared. On deadline, I did the rock work myself. I injured my back, severely enough that for nearly 9 months I could not walk without the help of a walker. Unable to even sit at my drafting table, I became unemployed. It may have been one of the best things that happened to me.
A young Hillary Clinton, pleasantly surprised as I made the presentation.

Hillary Clinton, as the Governor's wife, officially dedicated the garden in 1985. I had gathered the first lavender spikes from the new Heritage Herb Garden and taught myself how to make lavender wands. I presented her the first lavender wand from the new garden at the ceremony. For some amazing reason, she held up the wand, in front of the gathered dignitaries, media and herb folks, and gave a 2 minute spiel about my magical lavender wands.
Always gracious and sharing credit for every project. That small gesture launched me in a new direction.


To put this in context, I was penniless, no health insurance, struggling to start an herb business. I live in on a farm and wanted to find something to make a living, without leaving the farm. (I had worked in the landscape business for almost 20 years, which entailed a lot of travel and not much time on the farm). By her promoting my lavender wands, I immediately sold a bunch of them.
The lavender flowers are folded inside as you weave ribbon between the stems.

Who knows why I ever started making lavender wands. It's not a manly craft, that's certain. But the smell of lavender was greatly soothing to me that summer. I drug around an old chair as my walker. I could drape myself over the back of the chair and clip lavender spikes from the garden. The lavender was especially good that year, some of the spikes were 24 inches long (I have photos somewhere to prove it). Unable to do much else, I wove lavender wands each day. I could sit outside sprawled in a porch swing that hung from an elm tree, and weave. It just takes lavender and ribbon - ribbon was 10 cents at the remnant store. Lavender flowers are relaxing, which is why Johnson and Johnson puts it in baby shampoo, it's a fragrance that actually works. And so, sitting and making these silly wands each day, was a kind of therapy as I could do little else. I was depressed over being unable to do physical work and even though I often laughed at spending time making something that is far from useful (it's a craft from Victorian times, one of those acceptable crafts women could make, and used for nothing more than sticking in a wooden box that stored women's kid leather gloves), it did help in my recovery. I made 124 wands that summer and our friend, the late Billy Joe Tatum, sold about 60 of them for me at a craft show in New Orleans.
A completed lavender wand. These will last for many years and keep their fragrance.

Fortunately for me, the following year, Hillary Clinton ordered 49 of my wands when she and the Governor hosted the National Governor's convention in Little Rock. Each governor's wife received a wand (and other gifts). Eventually I started making lavender wands stuffed with lemon balm, another fragrant herb. When Governor Clinton not to run for President in 1988, I sent the Clintons a special wand, filled with lemon balm and built around a quartz crystal from Hot Springs, AR, where Bill Clinton had lived. The note with the wand said something like, "Lavender is an enchanting herb, lemon balm is considered wish-fulfilling and crystals are said to have magical powers...if Bill Clinton decides to run for President in 1992, this may help him over the top." When ABC News was in Little Rock at the end of 1992, interviewing the Clintons as they moved from the Governor's Mansion, where they'd lived for 18 years, in the stack of things they were taking with them to Washington, DC, was my lavender wand, sticking out the top of a basket!
Lavender cookies, bet you can't eat just one!

This week our lavender plants are in bloom. I may make a lavender wand just for old time's sake, and see if I still have the knack -  I got pretty good back in the old days. I want to make some lavender cookies, too. If you'd like my lavender cookie recipe, check my recipes blog, they're pretty tasty and I'll bet you can't eat just one! 

9 comments:

darius said...

What a great story... makes me feel you are a real down-to-earth, ordinary person like the rest of us!

Holly Cusumano said...

What a wonderful story! Whenever I see a lavender wand, I'll think of you (and Hillary).

The Magical Christmas Wreath Company said...

Jim, that is an amazing story. How fascinating. I have never heard of lavender wands. It obviously struck a chord with Hilary for her to hold onto it as it represented an important milestone in her career as much as it did for you. The pictures are wonderful.
Those cookie look delicious. I look forward to trying them out.
Paul

susanalbert said...

Jim, I love this story. Hillary is one of my heroes, and you are too! I'm pinning one of your photos to my Pinterest lavender board.

Annie in Austin said...

Susan Albert linked to your sweet story, Jim, and the combination of Hillary & lavender made me click. I love your story & was touched at how they helped your life.

Elizabeth Lawrence calls them "Lavender Sticks" in her book Through the Garden Gate, and her instructions taught me how to make them - think that was back when the Clintons were in the White House.

Now heading over to check out the cookie recipe - thank you!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Anonymous said...

Oh my! What a fabulous story and set of lavender goodies. I, too, never knew of lavender wands. I know I want one, though. Thanks so very much for sharing Hillary with us.

God bless.

KJ BaileyHighlands said...

I came because S.W.Albert posted a link on Facebook. Truly an inspiring story. I'm going out to tend my lavendar bed, even if my back does hurt. I think we all need to be making lavendar wands and gathering crystals to send to Sec'y of State Hillary, reminding her 2016 is coming.

Gardeningbren said...

I loved reading this. Thank you so much for sharing such an important part of your life, and the influence herbs and herb lovers can make in the big scheme of things. Wonderful! And yes, I want a lavender wand also!

Radhika said...

Are the wands available to purchase?