The Lavender Farmgirl
by Iris Lee Underwood
Owner, Yule Love It Lavender Farm
My romance with lavender began
several years ago during research on medicinal herbs for a literary
project. Good fortune led me to Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden,
Michigan, where a clan of women called the Friends of Herbs gathers to
tend the center's herb garden.
There, under the approving eye of St.
Francis of Assisi, when I first knelt with the sages and listened to
ancient remedies and favorite recipes, I knew I was on holy ground.
Visit after visit, my thirst for knowledge was satisfied by some sort of
herbal iced tea: lemon balm, mint, rose hips.
Gradually, as I weeded and harvested
lavender, smelled the scent from heaven, the plant's oil anointed me,
worked its way into my skin, my brain, my soul.
I became an herb lady: a believer in
lavender's healing virtue. Soon, the silver-green herb from the mint
family grew in my gardens. Just like my Seven Ponds tribe, lavender
flowers became one of my favorite expressions of love and gratitude: a
fresh posy tied with ribbon, or dried and wrapped in a vintage hanky.
My friends cherished their garden gifts.
They were amazed that after three years, the lavender still possessed
its fragrance. Ah, to see and know joy in such natural simplicity. Then,
one sunny day in 2003 I stood and stretched my back while deadheading my
perennial island. Seven years after the death of my firstborn, I had
never felt more alive, whole. I wondered What is it? and looked down for
There at my right foot was a lavender plant.
I brushed my ankle against it and whiffed the chemical reaction. Let me
stay here all day, I thought, and pulled a tissue from my pocket. There
it was again; the scent of lavender on my hand. The tissue.
Like Saint Peter on the roof top, I stood in
a trance, hip high in flowers. Rows of lavender appeared, surrounding
our little Cape Cod. Two acres of lavender!
Yes, that's what I'm going to be, I vowed.
I'm going to be a lavender farmer.
Well, my dreams are usually my husband's
nightmares. Thinking of retirement in the next decade, growing lavender
as a cash crop had to be ultimate insanity. Did I want to be confined to
a lavender farm every summer?
And what did I know about farming, or the
lavender market in Michigan?
Nothing. But I would learn.
After research and consultation with experts
during the winter, I planted a 25' x 25' tester lavender garden the
following spring, a loose version of an English knot garden. That
summer, thanks to an "herb lady" who had given me materials on the
event, my husband and I flew out to Sequim, Washington to visit the
Eighth Annual Lavender Festival in mid July, 2004. I went to study
lavender farming and the festival model. My husband went for vacation.
It was just like my vision: hundreds of
ribbons of lavender, rolling up, over and across open countryside.
"Wouldn't a visit to Sequim's Lavender Festival every summer be enough?"
my husband asked.
No. I wanted to encourage people to grow
lavender. To be healed as I was healed. Only farming lavender, learning
the Michigan hardy species, tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting, and
risking the financial investment, only then would I become a lavender
farmer. Only then would I know a lavender farm could be done in
Michigan. I could invite people to my farm to learn with me, to handle
the plant and be healed. To pick goodness and take a bundle home.
After the tester garden survived the winter,
my daughter Ruth helped me plant almost 700 lavender plants in the
spring of 2005. I planned and hosted my first lavender festival in July,
2005 with the help of volunteers who believed in my dream. The dramatic,
longed stemmed Grosso bloomed a month earlier than expected: perfect
timing for festival guests to harvest. Glorious! About 700 people
experienced that peculiar sense of wholeness.
Encouraged, I expanded the farm in September
2005 with 200 additional plants to test the success of fall planting
(yes, it bloomed the following summer). During the winter of 2006, I
wrote my business plan, studied the lavender business and planned the
Second Annual Yule Love It Lavender Festival. In May, I persuaded my
husband to till more land where we, with the help of friends, added
approximately 1,000 plants to the farm. July 2006, the lavender
community grew to help me host 1,200 festival guests. I added farm
tours, literary teas and "how-to" lavender workshops to the farms
In 2007, we expanded the farm to an acre of fifteen lavender varieties.
We built a greenhouse and pavilion that houses the Yule Love It Lavender
Gift Shoppe. Volunteers returned in July to help us welcome 1,200 guests
to the Third Annual Yule Love It Lavender Festival. Imagine my thrill
when a little blond girl stood aside a lavender field and said, "I want
to be a lavender farmer when I grow up."
Ah, the lavender romance! Those purple wands
waving in the breeze have a way of winning your heart.
And that romance is the passion developing
Yule Love It Lavender Farm, the first organic lavender farm in
Metro-Detroit, compliant with the National Organic Program. It is the
force that gathers small farmers in winter conferences to learn the
latest about subjects like cover crops and composting. To share their
success. To support and sustain each other during tough times. To
romance the next generation into farming.
Pot by pot, row by row, my vision on that
sunny day in 2003 is becoming reality. With Mother Nature's sweet kiss
and some serious work, Yule Love It Lavender Farm will eventually grow
and harvest two acres of lavender. Not Provence, but the best
resemblance I'll ever see during my days as a farmgirl.
And that is the wonder of it all. Although I
may never see the lavender of Provence in full bloom, I have the extreme
pleasure of viewing lavender outside the windows of our little house
every day of the year. The scent from heaven is always with me, just
like the memory of my firstborn. Just like the voice of the little girl
who wants to be a lavender farmer when she grows up.