Celebrating a Bountiful Harvest!

Like any plant, lavender experiences good years, poor years and bountiful years.  I’m thrilled to report that this summer has been one of those bountiful years as the first harvest completed with a brimming Carriage House full of drying bundles.
Long Lavender Stems Drying
What contributes to a bountiful harvest?  Lavender likes air, space, light and sun which were plentiful here at the farm in the critical months of May, June and July.  We received just enough rainfall which meant that the plants didn’t get their “feet wet” or drown in puddles in the garden, which renders them more vulnerable.
 Lavender on the Barm Bridge
Sunny and warm Summers also hold diseases at bay like Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV) and Phytophthora Nicotianae (Ppn) which plagued many lavender farms throughout America for the past two years. We’ve had our own tough seasons past  with “winter kill” from prolonged days of sub-zero Winter temperatures.
A few years ago we lost about half of our lavender plants from “winter kill”.  Many of those plants were 20+ years old and had been so well loved that we knew them by name.   We also lost every one of our long stemmed “Provence”and “Grosso” plants during the brutal Winter of 2013-14.  This was a heart break.
In trying to second guess the upcoming Winters we cautiously bet that there would be a return to “normal” which, for us, does not include months of sub-zero temperatures.  So, we began replanting gingerly.
We replaced the Provence and Grosso gardens with “Phenomenal” which flourished this year.  Phenomenal has stems as long as 2 feet; is very hardy in Growing Zone 5; and, offers a nice fragrance.  It has a mid-bluish/purple color and is a nice all around plant to include in your garden. All in all, an improvement!
 Phenomenal Lavender Stems
We’ve planted a test garden of “Big Time Blue”, a new angustifolia with exceptional color, good fragrance and a long flower head for 10″ bouquets.   We found Big Time Blue at Burpee’s and I believe they have them in stock for Fall planting if you’d like to give this compact variety a try in your perennial garden.
Big time Blue Lavender

The Gros Bleu with it’s vivid color, longish stems (18″) and nice fragrance was such a hardy Winter survivor and star that we planted another garden of them.

A garden miracle also occurred with our twenty year-old  Munstead and Hidcote plants which produced “babies” through a natural layering process.  The aging Mother plant produced five baby plants, encircling her last summer.  While many of the rows are no longer “neat and orderly” the harvest from the year old babies has been surprisingly strong.   Mother nature works in mysterious ways
Lavender Propegated by Layering
Even though we haven’t experienced Ppn at Lavender Green Farm, we’re taking precautions by sending one plant from each new flat from the nursery to the Clemson Problem Plant Clinic to be tested.  In the interim, the other newbies from the flat are quarantined until we get a disease free health report.  This may seem overly cautious but we don’t want to introduce fungus- like oomycete* into the gardens as they destroy plants with symptoms that look like root rot.  So far there have been no diseases present in nursery stock ordered this year.
A number of the gardeners who attended our tours last Summer reported that their plants died instantly after a rainfall, which is a another sign of Ppn.  If this happens to you, pull and burn or put the sick plant into the trash bag and remove the surrounding soil by digging out the ground around the spot in your garden.  If it was Ppn nothing will successfully grow there for an indeterminate number of years–it is that serious and it can spread through the soil infecting other plants.  You can also notify your local Dept. of Agriculture office to find out where to send the plant for diagnosis.
So much for reflection on what we have learned over the past few years. Given this year’s harvest, our new mantra is to optimistically look forward with eyes wide open–taking nothing for granted.
I hope your garden is flourishing this Summer, too.
Fragrant Lavender Wishes,
Ginna

 

Keeping the Holidays Peaceful

Norman  Rockwell Family Dinner

“Freedom from Want” – Norman Rockwell

When I think of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I envision something like the Norman Rockwell painting  “Freedom from Want” with three generations of family gathered around a big farm table passing the Turkey and mashed potatoes.  The meal begins with a prayer of thanks or the song “Bless be the Ties that Bind” and everyone is grateful to be together for a lovely feast.

We’ve had this kind of Thanksgiving and Christmas at the farm in days past and I treasure that memory forever. The family cooks, Grandma, Mom and Aunt Mary were flushed and slightly out of breath, but proud to serve up the feast to their treasured family. Their  table was laid with traditional holiday fare, repeated year after year.  In our case, dim sum from the German tradition with seven sweets and seven sour’s and ham and game along with turkey.  Family and food were the focus, and tired “little ones” the main distraction.

 Some things this year will be the same, and some things will be different–but the one thing we want to maintain is the joy of the season and a peaceful and pleasant time with family that nourishes relationships and builds memories that sustain us.  There will be many more distractions this year that we’ll have to workaround to make the season merry.  Here are a few tips on how we’ll keep the peace.

Uplifting Conversation
Plan ahead to increase the probabilities of relationship building  conversations and good digestion  by using place cards around the table, thoughtfully.  Position the good talkers next to the good listener’s and grandparents near distant grandchildren, and the hard of hearing near the kind hearted.  You know your peeps!

Maintain a lighthearted conversation at the table.  Ideally, we like one topic at a time with everyone offering an opinion or a story or a joke and a lot of laughter.  The host or hostess or good conversationalist can introduce the topic–avoiding topics that are known “hot buttons” for one or more family members.  Since our family loves to debate–this is not easy–and the best debaters can drown out our more thoughtful and soft spoken family members, so we will try to facilitate the family like a “focus group” with everyone getting a word in participation. When this breaks down with three or four conversations are happening at the same time, bring them all together with a provocative new question around a topic.

Avoid risky topics. I must confess to my own hot buttons in conversation like climate change, GMO’s impact on the food supply and terrorists, but I will keep these topics close to the vest as everyone knows where I stand on these issues and I don’t want to be on a soap box or start a debate.  I’ll speak of positive advances in alternative energy production, growth in organic food farming, and International efforts to secure world peace, instead.  If I hear a comment that is likely to set off a fire storm, I’ll reply with something like “how interesting” and change the topic.

Guests
We’re meeting niece Morgan’s significant other and potential new family member for the first time, so I want to learn more about him, without making him want to run from the table and our family!  Questions meant to grill or haze this newbee (like, when are you going to marry my niece?) are off-limits and will be more uplifting, such as “how does your family celebrate the holidays”?

Inviting a stranger to the group, like a visiting foreign student, is often a blessing in keeping conversation from becoming too personal and cooling contentious topics.  Introducing them to our traditions and learning about their traditions can involve everyone in delightful conversations.  Many foreign students have been invited to our table over the years as well as friends at loose ends for the holidays.  I’m sure they are unaware of the role they play in keeping everyone on their best behavior.

Cocoa, our mini-red poodle will not be invited to the table, as much as he would like to attend.  The little beggar who delights us privately might very well be a nuisance to others and will be brought to the party for a touch football game….later.

Minimizing Distractions
Cell Phones – Some ground rules need to be set in advance around cell phones, don’t you think?  We do have some family members who tune out the conversation and text away with phone discretely in their laps, insulting the people at the table, I believe.  Others have a way of proving you are wrong, with an “I’ll Google that” and tell you the facts.  So, we’ll gather cell phones in a basket before dinner with a promise to return them after the meal.  If someone must take a call, they can leave the table to do so.  Tough rules for tough distractions!

Football – The big screen will be in another room and the DVR will be activated if dinner runs into game time.  We will honor big game times and try to keep meal schedules on track to avoid anxiety on the part of true fans.

If we play touch football in the yard, we’ll let the little kids win, or at least not humiliate or wound them. We do have a die hard football fan in the family, a brother-in-law who can’t miss a moment of play, so he usually decides to stay home in his man cave and watch the entire game day with take-out chicken. This is OK with the rest of us. We can catch up with him later.

Toasts and Prayers
Keep them short and eloquent, toasting the hosts, the cooks and the people in the room (who are the right people) and the people far away who are missed.  Going around the table asking each person what they are grateful for can be uplifting, bonding and a great climate setter for the meal. If a prayer is de rigor in your family as it is in our’s, remember to keep it short and relevant to the day and don’t use a blessing for the meal as an opportunity to present a sermonette, as the gravy congeals.

What to drink and when?
It’s lovely to have complimentary wines served with the meal and cocktails before and cordials after, all within moderation and in due time.  It’s fun for the cook to sip a little and cook a little, but it can seriously slow down preparations–yes, this is learned from experience.  Mia Culpa.  Also, the host should make sure that there are plenty of interesting, non-alcoholic drinks available and monitor drinking so that the party is convivial, but doesn’t get out of hand or set up any driving risks.  The weather and roads during the holidays  are challenging and demand good driving skills so don’t let family members drive who have overdone it.  They can nap on the couch until ready for the road or handoff their keys for a ride home.

Lavender Ambiance
We have to bring lavender into our holiday equation, or it wouldn’t be a LavenderGreen Celebration.  We’ll have a menu with lavender in Herbs de Provence for the turkey.  You can find other lavender infused recipes on our Pinterest page, but use sparingly to introduce this new taste to family.  This year, we’re making Earl Gray Tea & Lavender Infused Chocolate Truffles, by popular demand. (Recipe and video)

Before the meal, we’ll diffuse “Celebrate” to set a cheerful mood and give a scent memory of Christmas past with this blend of lavender, frankincense, orange, cinnamon, rosewood, cistus and mandarin.  We’ll add a few drops to our diffuser in the foyer to great incoming guests.  We’ll turn it off when the fragrance of roasted turkey should prevail.  (order Celebrate here)

We’ll spritz the football game room with “road rage relief“, probably in mist form, when the going gets tough for losing team’s fan because it reduces anxiety and tempers.

Here’s hoping that this will be the best Holiday ever with good memories made and relationships strengthened!

To learn more about the miscellany of modern manners–for hosts and guests, see Ben Schott’s article entitled “Giving & Thanking” in the Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine.  This article triggered my own thoughts and experiences in hosting holiday dinners for family.  I’d love to hear from you about your family’s experience and your tips for keeping the peace at holiday time.

Happy Holidays Readers and many blessings in the year ahead,
Ginna

Building a Lavender Garden from “Scratch”  

Gros_Bleu-StemsAre you dreaming of a purple haze of lavender in your backyard and lavender’s refreshing scent wafting through an open window on a sunny afternoon?  Almost everyone can make a mini-garden of lavender that can fulfill this dream and provide enough dried stems for your home and buds for sachets or potpourri.  A mini-bed can be created along the side of a building, in a circle, a knot garden, or in a straight line bed along sidewalk or driveway.  The garden featured in this post contains just 18 plants of the Gros Blue variety which is a cultivar of Grosso, a Lavandin.  We love it for its color, fragrance and stem length.

There are just a few things to consider:

  1. Chose the right location, full sun with good drainage
  2. Prepare your soil; a sandy, loamy soil is ideal, but you can amend any soil to work
  3. Chose the right variety for your garden and buy enough plants to space them with room for air to circulate
  4. Plant, Water, mulch, snip, and prune

Choosing the Timing and the Right Location

 Chose a location that receives the most sunlight in your yard.  South facing is helpful and so is a wind-break or a building or a stone wall nearby.  We have open field gardens that do well with a fence as a near-by wind-break, critical in Zone 5.

Plot out your garden first and decide how many plants to buy.  We plant in early June, after the danger of frost has past, but before the heat requires too much watering.  Fall planting is fine in some warmer areas of the country.  Make certain that you have good drainage with a natural slope where water from a heavy deluge of rain can quickly run off the garden.  Lavender likes rain, but does not like to have its feet “wet”…so no standing water in the lavender garden, ever. (standing water leads to root rot–a very sad occurrence).

Soil Preparation

 Lavender loves a sandy, loamy soil just like the Mediterranean soil it came from originally.  Our soil has a lot of clay in it, so we dig a hole 18″ deep and fill it with potting soil, pearlized limestone, and pea gravel.  This soil mix should crumble in your fingers and is “friable” which helps promote healthy root growth.  You can also add play sand, but we reserve the play sand for mulch.  Use a mini-soil tester to make sure the soil mix has a PH of 7.  A PH of 6 or below is too acidic for healthy growth.  Lavender likes “cheap” soil, so there is rarely a need to add fertilizer.

 Sequim, Washington has a gritty soil and Delaware a sandy soil which are both naturally hospitable soils for lavender, but the rest of us need to compensate.

Close-up of Gros Bleu Lavender

Choosing the right lavender plants for your garden

 There are now about 200 varieties of lavender available in the market place.  We suggest that you buy from a local nursery to get the plants that will do well in your growing zone.  In our case, we plant very winter hardy lavender like to true Angustifolia Munstead and Hidcote which survive our quirky winters in growing zone 5.  If you like long stems, consider the new variety “Phenomenal” which can withstand cold, rain and draught.  This is a cultivar of Grosso, a very sturdy Lavandin with long stems.   If you’re going for a sea of lavender, buy all of the same variety for each garden.

 If your gardens are full, consider adding a lavender plant as a fragrant purple accent in a mixed perennial garden. It pairs well with roses and many other favorites.

Gros_Bleu-WeedingPlant, water, weed, snip and prune

 Measure your garden and read the spacing requirements on the tag of your plants.  Lavenders come in many sizes from compact, 12″ spreads to huge 36″ mounded spreads.  Make sure to allow enough space between the plants so the air can circulate around them and you can move around the plants to harvest the lavender flowers and weed.

 Dig holes 12-18″ deep and 12″ wide and refill your hole with the amended soil.  Lavender roots extend 18″ deep, but a 1 year old plant has about 3″ of roots, so you need to mound up a little Pyramid inside your hole and gently spread the baby’s roots over the pyramid, so that the crown of the plant is even with the garden.  Water the plants when you have patted them down into the soil.

Pea_Gravel_ newspaper_mulch We add a top cover of pea gravel to our entire garden after planting for two reasons.  First, it’s light color reflects sunlight back into the plant and prevents fungus and second because it works its way into the soil and breaks down the clay, allowing the roots to “breathe”.

Garden side by side year one and two Don’t expect many stems in your first summer, but year two will yield more and year three should be spectacular.  It’s important to cut off spent stems, to encourage more growth.  English lavenders will give you a second cutting in September if you cut the stems in July.  If you experience a rainy summer with lots of cloud cover, consider adding a 1-2″ play sand mulch on top of the gravel all around the plant to bounce light back into the plant.  This little tip can spare you from root rot and promote healthy growth by tricking the plant into thinking it’s really back home in the Mediterranean.

Gros Blue garden in the fallWeeding is important because weeds can “choke” a young lavener plant and be the cause of an early demise.  We weed by hand because we are keeping our gardens organic and herbicide free. Prune in the fall after the plant has gone to sleep.  Lavandins can be pruned and shaped into a neat mound and the Angustifolia’s can at least be made neater, although they grow asymmetrically and always look a little “oppitity”.

 Your garden should give you color, fragrance  and pleasure from mid-June until mid- July plus or minus two weeks.  It may rest in August and flower again in September providing you with lavender enough for your home and gift-giving.

Enjoy!

Ginna Gemmell

Traveling Around the World, Seeking Lavender Essential Oil

light through trees on snowOne of the pleasures of a long winter is that Mother Nature gives us a rest from the garden and time to plan and indulge our curiosity about the world outside of the farm.  As a lavender lover I have been armchair traveling to other countries that produce lavender oil and sampling their essential oils this Winter, focusing on Lavandula Angustifolia oils.  What a delight!  Each country seems to have it’s own signature lavender fragrance and benefits, and I appreciate their unique differences!  It’s hard to chose a favorite because, like wine, each satisfies a different mood or use.

map of the Mediterranean region
Mediterranean countries have the longest history of distilling lavender essential oil but, with the globalization of the plant, lavender is wild crafted or cultivated all around the World on nearly every continent.  Far flung countries like India, Australia, South America, and South Africa offer some of the most tantalizing scents these days. The US is also cultivating lavender for essential oil, primarily on the West Coast and, more recently, in the Southwest.  We are very eager to try our US oils when they become more available and affordable.

Lavender can be compared to grapes in the sense that temperature, days of sunshine, rain and growing season all impact lavender’s scent and bounty.  A dry Summer might produce stunted plant growth, for example, but very fragrant oil and intense flowers which translate into a spectacular Essential Oil.  Growing altitude also impacts lavender’s fragrance.  As a general rule of thumb, the higher the elevation the greater the difficulty in harvesting or wild crafting the lavender, and the more precious and pricey the resulting oil.

Photograph: Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Corbis

Photograph: Jean-Pierre Lescourret/Corbis

One of our all time favorite oil is the French variety “Population;” considered the benchmark angustifolia oil. It is raised in almost perfect conditions at a latitude offering long daylight hours, a high altitude of 3500 feet, moderate rainfall and a sandy soil.  It has a thin, sweet, green strong scent and makes wonderful perfume, as well as being known for its therapeutic qualities.  We reserve this oil for our Lavender Personal Diffusers with refills, which use the precious oil very efficiently.

 

Photo: StellaVM

Bulgaria’s Rose Valley. Photo: StellaVM

Lavender Bulgarian Essential Oil  has a rich lavender-floral scent which is somewhat fruitier and more mellow than Population, and is a little less expensive.  We love this oil and use it in our Essential Oil Synergies because it holds its own with other strongly scented oils like Tea Tree or Eucalyptus and is grown organically in Bulgaria’s Rose Valley.

 

Farmers picking on lavender fields outside of Franschoek, South Africa.

Farmers picking Lavender outside of Franschoek, South Africa. Photo: Slack12

We’ve also sampled lavender essential oils from Moldova, the Ukraine and South Africa, and found that each has their own unique scent and appeal.  I think my favorite Lavender Essential Oil might be Kashmir, from the northern mountains of India.  This is pricey and not available in great quantity because it is wild crafted in a very unsettled region of India.  But, I would use the word “divine” to describe its scent.

0107_3174
This Winter is also giving us the time to experiment with blending oils to demonstrate new research on lavender’s medicinal qualities.  Spanish Stoechas has a sharp note but is very medicinal and, when blended with Lavender Seville Absolute and Lavandula Dentate, they form a synergy posited to treat stubborn infections according to new research shared by the US Lavender Grower’s Association.  Our testing at Lavender Green is experimental and we’re using it on ourselves and volunteers only at this point in straight, carrier oil and cream formulations.

I have also found myself watching PBS and the Travel Channel this Winter in an attempt to learn more and get a better understanding of the countries producing the wondrous lavender Essential Oil.  It’s been a total treat and my real vs. virtual travel bucket list has grown!  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to roam the world like free spirits searching out the most fragrant and addictive lavender essential oil?  It could take us many Winters! 

 Comment and tell us which Lavender fields top your bucket list?

Cheers,
Ginna

In a Thanksgiving Frame of Mind….

Dried Lavender Centerpiece

The 2013 Season’s second harvest has been completed and our lavender plants have fallen asleep for their long Winter’s nap, blanketed beneath a quilt of brightly colored Oak and Maple leaves bordering our gardens.  An un-summery chill in the air serves as a reminder that the Holidays will soon be upon us!

A burst of autumn energy has replaced our summer rhythm as we prepare for the Christmas season.  We are busy every day making products for Knox’s Once Upon A Christmas Show, barely two weeks from now. (November 22-24).

Once Upon a Christmas

Once Upon A Christmas is a weekend that engages the entire Community as many guests come to explore the bounty of our harvest, as well as the recent efforts of thirty local artisans.  This is a 23 year-old tradition in Knox, PA that presents a festive opportunity to catch up with old friends and get into the holiday spirit.

I want to pause, though, and reflect upon what we have accomplished this year, acknowledging the many hands and hearts who have helped us.  It is the season of Thanksgiving and my heart is very grateful.

This was the year we invested in a redesign of our 17 year-old website lavendergreen.com.  A team of four professionals coordinated the site’s redesign which, among many benefits, is now completely mobile friendly.  This initiative began very early in 2013, culminating in its launch on October 1st!  The project required nine months to be delivered — and not without the stress that accompanies innovation.  Much of this technology is new to LavenderGreen, if not the world.  Inevitably, learning curves seemed to emerge at every corner.

LavenderGreen.com Screen shot

With a special thanks to Stasi, many new photographs now grace the site.  Debbie masterfully revised my old narrative copy and product descriptions.  Our transition to a far more easily managed platform occurred under David’s skilled guidance, while John tirelessly reworked our SEO.  Partnering the new website is our Facebook page which Stasi creatively manages.  Within the past week she has integrated Twitter and Pinterest.  Oh, my!

Such a learning curve in such a compressed time!  I realized, once again, that it is natural for us to overestimate what can be accomplished in the short-term and underestimate what is possible in the long term.  I am gratified by our new website and hope it makes a big improvement in the experience that lavender lovers have when visiting us on-line.  As a work-in-progress we are continuously improving that experience thanks to the thoughtful feedback of our fans.

 

Human beings plan and the “gods” laugh, though.  At the same time that this project was in full swing the rain fell relentlessly throughout the Summer thwarting the lavender harvest!  Our Lavender Green team, comprised of a dozen local high school girls, was routinely rained out of the garden too early in the morning by drenching downpours.

Here's our crew that helps pick our organic lavender.

Thank you, Kelly and the team, for not losing heart, creatively managing yourselves and cutting in between the showers!  Thanks to your parents, too, for chauffeuring you back-and-forth to the Lavender Green farm throughout the season.

Looking at Lavender in the rain

Seven tours were hosted this summer involving local and regional garden clubs, as well as lavender lovers who came armed with umbrellas and rain gear, undaunted!  Thank you for your support.

Paralleling this activity our sewers, Barbara and Tara, and our aromatherapist, Gina, faithfully stayed the course in product development.  I am grateful to you all, especially for your patience in making allowances for the toll imposed by our technological reboot.

Family Photo

My family stepped up their help, as well, unselfishly lending their strength, skills and talents.  Nancy, Martha, Madison and Braden assisted in framing the tone of the new website.  Others weighed in with their advice and experience, lifting my spirits in the process.  Lynn convinced me that we do have something of interest to TWEET!  Lydia and Jim donated their last ticket enabling me to attend a class at Penn State targeting the ways and means of social media.  Twenty-three family members stood at the ready to help and advise because LavenderGreen farm means so much to them, too.  My husband, Chris, worked until dusk every day taming the expansive lawns, meadows and gardens.  Braden lent a hand, refining our perennial gardens on a ruthlessly meager budget.  Kathleen and Paul visited at just the right moment to shop and garden.  Many saw it for the “do or die” proposition it is, as are all family farms these days.

 

I have tears in my eyes as I reflect on the help I have received this summer.  I am sorry for any moments of panic or impatience.  Please know I am sincerely grateful.  My fantasy is to prepare and share a Thanksgiving feast with you all and, short of that, I will wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving season!