I just returned from a trip to Sequim, Washington to visit lavender farms. Sequim is located in northern Washington between Port Townsend and Port Angeles. If you are a lavender lover, imagine seeing acres and acres of wonderful purple rolling fields. I walked in fields smelling the heady scent and hearing bees buzzing ecstatically. For a horticulturist, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I ate lavender white chocolate ice cream and tried lavender lemon custard. I bought lavender salad dressing, oils and lotions. Lavender hot chocolate is supposed to be good too. I smelled lavender sachets, lavender candles and so much more. Lavender was the saving crop for this small agricultural community. When other crops and dairy farms weren’t making a living for the farmers, they decided to create an association of growers to find a way to keep their agricultural lifestyle alive (www.sequimlavenderfarms.com). They saved their farms and positively influenced the local economy by growing lavender and having a lavender festival each year. With names such as Lavender Hills Farm, Purple Haze Farm, Ladybug Lavender Farm, how could any self-respecting gardener resist a visit?
With music, food and activities at every farm as well as in downtown Sequim, the festival celebrated its 15th year this year. Sequim is said to be the lavender capital of North America. Over 110,000 plants are grown each year there in the upper Olympic peninsula.
I have found lavender very easy to grow. It tolerates many conditions, but thrives in warm, well-drained soil. The Sequim lavender website says, “a lean soil will encourage a higher concentration of oils.” So will an alkaline soil – which is what we have here in Nevada. Soil drainage has to be good, and air has to circulate easily around the plants, so branches should not touch neighboring plants. After winter, remove dead leaves from the base of the plant. Full sun is required. Lavender is drought resistant after it is established. Plants will thrive in our dry air. To keep a plant nicely shaped, late fall or early spring pruning is best, where you leave approximately one inch of green foliage on the plant. To harvest for fresh use, pick the blossoms when half of the flowers have opened on the stalk. For drying, cut when three-quarters of the blossoms are open.
There are many varieties of lavender, some much more cold hardy than others. Choose healthy plants that tolerate the cold, and you too can have great success growing this fragrant herb.