By Hetty Stuart
The invitation from Essentially Lavender Farm was irresistible: “We invite you to come and visit our farm where you can rest, relax and rejuvenate – while surrounded by lavender and nature.” Located between Teeswater and Formosa, this grassroots lavender farm is owned by Bill and Cathy Kirk.
The beautiful hobby farm offers much for the imagination in the rolling hills and pastures, with a meandering river and ponds. From the hill top, the land sloping downwards is layered in colourful rows of blues and white. The intoxicating scent exudes an atmosphere of calm and peace, a place buzzing with insects and birds.
A closer look at the thick stripes of various hues of blue shows a wave of the wand-like flowers with their silvery green leaves. The colours blend artistically from the soft white of Elegance White, to the pale pink of Melissa, to the vibrant purple of the Super Blue lavender.
“With our kids grown,” said Cathy, “we were looking for a new challenge and a change in lifestyle. While we bought the farm eight years ago, we’ve only been growing lavender for three years. This farm is our non-retirement retirement project,” she laughed. It has turned out to be an ambitious full-time, year-round job for both of them.
Bill added: “We are a couple who have both visions and nightmares, and we love every minute of it.” Cathy’s background as a Landscape Architect works hand in hand with Bill’s former contracting experience. “Cathy comes up with the designs, and I install them,” said Bill proudly. The carefully-groomed premises show exactly the love and care in every detail.
The Lavender Boutique on the farm is a small artisan studio that sells unique hand-made lavender-inspired products as well as provides education on the subject of lavender. Because lavender is such a versatile flower, with such voluptuous colour, there are many avenues to showcase its incredible beauty – through ceramics, painting, photography, the art of distillation, culinary arts, aromatherapy, flower arranging, resin coasters, and more. There is even a W.H.O. hand sanitizer that meets the standards necessary for today’s consumers.
All their varieties of lavender plants on the farm are also for sale at this store. It is important when starting your own lavender garden to purchase plants that are specifically meant for your climate and soil. “There are many different cultivars for three different harvests,” explained Cathy. “The early ones begin in late June – they are harvested before the flowers have opened. They are dried, de-budded, and used in soaps and bath salts. The second harvest comes immediately afterwards, and is used for bouquets. The third one is used for distillation and oil production. Each variety of lavender has a different fragrance.”
Lavender plants are the perfect addition to the lazy gardener’s yard. “They are hardy, non-invasive, drought-tolerant perennials, and the deer and rabbits just walk on by,” noted Bill. “They like a sunny, well-drained site – even gravelly soil will do. They do not like to be wet, and will grow in alkaline soil. And, they are winter-hardy.” What is there not to love about this simple, low-maintenance plant?
Lavender flowers not only add gentle colour and aroma to the landscape, they also provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Bill proudly showed us his new addition of two healthy bee hives on the hilltop, just steps away from the flowers. From these hives, the farm obtains home-grown honey as well as beeswax, used in the creation of many of their products. Bill has many more dreams dancing in his mind, ducks and alpacas are only a couple of the ideas that keep his eyes twinkling.
Perhaps the best part of a lavender garden is that once lavender is planted, the fragrance can be enjoyed, as well as its flavour long after summer is gone. “We offer a selection of natural, small-batch lavender-based skin care and home care products, all produced and processed on our farm,” stated Cathy with obvious pride. “The skin conditioning properties of lavender and its pleasant aroma make it a natural ingredient for use in body-care products such as lotions, creams and soaps”.
With its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic qualities it is perfect for use in many balms and yoga and sport sprays. Since lavender is a natural relaxant it is used as a sleep aid and in bath salts and oils to promote a relaxing and restorative bath.
“However,” said Cathy, “if you are looking to use the lavender as buds for sachets, or pillows, then harvest the lavender buds before they flower.” Timing is key for harvesting the buds: the flower spikes should be cut in the morning, after the dew has dried. Gather them into small bunches, secure with elastic bands, and hang upside down in a dark, dry room. When thoroughly dry, rub the stems to remove flowers. Store in an airtight jar to use in bathwater, or to tie into a pretty hanky for a sachet for a linen cupboard or drawer to deter moths.
“Lavender can be used in beverages such as lemonade, teas, wines and hot chocolate.” said Cathy. “It is also used in many baked goods such as cookies, cakes, muffins and scones. Lavender acts as a flavour enhancer in many meat, poultry and fish dishes and can be used in salad dressings, vinegars and jams.”
Another common use for lavender is in aromatherapy. The fragrance from the oils of lavender may lower the heart rate and blood pressure, creating a relaxed state, promoting calmness and wellness, and reducing stress, anxiety and insomnia. There are great benefits to sleeping soundly on a lavender night.
Cathy nodded to the corner of the boutique shop where a copper distiller stood. “We purchased this traditional steam distillation unit from Portugal. It is designed for herbs, not spirits. We distill the plants to make essential oils, and floral waters.” Demonstrations will be available during distillation season as part of a guided tour.
Aromatherapists use lavender to treat headaches and nervousness and restlessness. The lavender oil is massaged into the skin, functioning as a calming agent. Lavender oils also have positive results in helping with eczema, acne, sunburns, and diaper rash.
Some of the products that are made and sold at Essentially Lavender are lotion, soap, sachets, bath salts, salves, deoderant, essential oil, sport spray, linen spray, neck rolls and of course lavender plants!
Tours and visitors are welcome to experience the farm. Children are invited and encouraged to solve the labyrinth, watch the honey bees and bumble bees, and enjoy their picnics on the relaxed seating areas. The owners have tastefully planned for the enjoyment of young and old alike to stop and smell the flowers.
Their farm is located at 1379 Concession 10, Formosa. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Bill and Cathy also have developed a strong on-line store where all their products are available. Their website for further information is www.essentially lavender.ca ◊