On Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the community of Sequim has made a name for itself as the lavender capitol of North America. With the rich, fertile soils of the Dungeness Valley, and a growing climate similar to that of the Provence region of France, many hardworking folks have done their part to save farmland from development by planting acres of this wonderful herb. In 1995, a group of gardeners formed the Sequim Lavender Grower's Association with the goal of restoring Sequim's agricultural heritage and supporting the local lavender farmers. They are meeting this goal with great success, and this year they held their 14th annual Sequim Lavender Festival with farm tours, you-pick, workshops, demonstrations, art, music and food (including lavender cheesecake, lavender ice cream, and lavender margaritas!) If you ever get a chance to make it to this event, it is well worth the trip. Another successful fruit of their endeavors is a happening agro-tourism industry in the Dungeness Valley. Many of the farms are open for u-pick and strolling around during the summer season, and have year-round gift shops on site. Some have cafes and farm dinner events, some have wedding facilities, and some have on-site aromatherapy and herbal businesses.
About ten years ago, while studying horticulture at Washington State University, I had the good fortune to do a summer internship at Cedarbrook Herb Farm and work during the Sequim Lavender Festival. I think it was one of the best jobs I ever had. My brother and I spent the long, hot summer days out in the fields harvesting bundles of lavender with scythes, and hanging the bunches up to dry in the rafters. It was an extreme aromatherapy experience. I think I would have come to love lavender regardless of this experience, but it certainly sparked in me an affinity for this amazing plant. I really love lavender. I decided that one day I would have a lavender field of my own. Now that I finally have a little land to cultivate and call my own, I decided to go on a Dungeness lavender farm tour this summer to get some ideas and inspiration for my agricultural endeavors.
Cedarbrook Herb Farm
It seemed fitting to start my little tour with the farm where I worked. I usually stop by to visit and show the gardens to my kids when I'm in the area. The farm was founded in the 1800's by Scottish settlers, and the historic Bell House remains as the gift shop. Regular readers of this blog have heard all about my love for old farmhouses, and this one is a gem. It even has lavender trim! Cedarbrook has been an herb farm since the 1930's, and the woman I worked for, Toni Anderson, inherited it from her mother and planted the lavender fields. She did a lot of dried flower arranging, and used to offer workshops. I went to a couple of them with my girl scouts troop when I was in grade school. The current owners are running the farm very similarly to the way it was when I worked there, along with a vacation rental house overlooking the lavender fields, and a garden cafe on the grounds that offers a very fancy high tea once a month.
Here is one of the very lavender fields I helped to tend and harvest. I like the black shade cloth as a low-maintenance weed barrier around the plants. I am thinking of doing something similar for my own lavender field.
As you stroll around the gardens, and the old barn swallowed up by hop vines, you might meet Miss Minnie the cat. Miss Minnie lived there when I worked there ten years ago, and she's STILL there! She must have more than nine lives, because she was an old cat back then. She loves to curl up under potting benches in the sunshine and have passers by pet her. My son made good friends with her while we were there.
In the Bell House there are bundles of lavender and various fragrant herbs hanging from the ceiling to dry. It's one of the best smells I could ever imagine. There are bunches of tea roses, sea holly, everlastings, strawflowers, and yarrow. I would like to figure out a shed where I can do that on my own farm. I'd want to hang out in there all the time.
Of course, you can buy dried lavender buds by the scoop here. I love the old fashioned tub and wooden scoop they have for folks to use. There is also a good selection of dried culinary and medicinal herbs and varieties of lavender along the wall when you walk in. I always get the sense that I've been transported back in time when I'm there. Even when I used to work there, all grubby in my coveralls, digging in the dirt, I felt like I was in a fancy, old-fashioned sort of place. It's magical.
To visit Cedarbrook's website, go to: http://www.cedarbrooklavender.com/.
Port Williams Lavender Farm
I didn't know much about this farm, so I decided to stop by and check it out. The farmer, Michael Shirkey, came out to meet us and offer enthusiastic support for my lavender farming dreams and answers to all my questions. This, I decided, was the friendliest and most down-to-earth of the farms I visited. Michael and Sue have lavender fields, honeybees, and a tiny gift shop cottage where they sell handmade lavender products and their own distilled lavender oil. I came away with a lot of inspiration.
The sign says it all.
This farm keeps their honeybees at the edge of the lavender fields in some snazzy lavender colored hives. I tried some of their lavender honey, and it was delicious. I'll bet those are some happy bees, living in their colorful hives looking out at the Olympic Mountains and gathering lavender pollen all day.
To visit Port Williams Lavender online, go to: http://portwilliamslavender.com/.
Jardin du Soleil
We made more of a quick stop at this certified organic farm. It was beautifully, and meticulously landscaped with gently rolling hills of lavender and gazebos. Their gift shop had a sign on the door saying children must be held by the hand, so we didn't linger too long. They did have an impressive array of organic herbal soaps and natural bodycare products made with their own distilled lavender oils.
Their fields were set up with no weed barrier, and what looked like some serious manpower weeding. I didn't see one single weed. I liked their drip irrigation set up too.
To visit Jardin du Soleil online, go to: http://www.jardindusoleil.com/
Lost Mountain Lavender Farm
This farm was started by my high school biology teacher as a side business, and as the lavender industry grew, she sold it to new owners so that she could focus on teaching. This farm is unique in its location, in that it is situated up in the hills and surrounded by forest. It's a beautiful spot with an orchard and colorful flowers planted at the edge of the lavender field. This would be a great spot for a picnic!
To visit Lost Mountain Lavender online, go to: http://www.lostmountainlavender.com/.
Purple Haze Lavender Farm