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.
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.
 
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!
 
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
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

In a Thanksgiving Frame of Mind….

Dried Lavender CenterpieceThe 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.

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!