Harvesting lavender…those words together sound pretty idyllic. Even in the heat and smoke from Okanagan fires it is a pretty amazing way to spend a morning. It is the only farm work I’ve done where you come home hot, dirty and sore but smelling better than when you started.
In movie speak It’s The Colour of Purple, Scent of a Woman and Attack of the Killer Bees all rolled into one. The glorious purpleness of the fields, the clean, stringent and all encompassing lavender aroma and the buzzing of a zillion bees make the time spent at Forest Greenman Lavender Farm in Naramata an intense sensory experience. This photo essay captures the sights of the morning…your imagination will have to fill in the rest.
The lure of lavender has spawned a tourism industry that sees France’s Provence region inundated with photographers and plein air painters jostling for space. Naramata’s Forest Green Man Lavender offers stunning vistas with an incredible lake view and the-breathe-deeply, clean, distinctive lavender perfume – sans crowds. The clincher…the friendly local Naramatian vibe of its proprietors, Doug Mathias and Karolina Born-Tschuemperlin.
“This is a happy place,” Karolina says. “It’s a soft, sweet place with the rolling hills and scent and it just seems to make people feel good. I love to see their smiles as they come around the corner and see the view for the first time when the fields are in bloom. It’s like we live in the Shire from the Hobbit.”
The farm has been growing lavender since 2000. With more than 2,500 lavender plants on its six acres, Forest Green Man features a shop in its new barn filled with high-quality lavender bath and kitchen lavender products all made from natural ingredients. An art gallery featuring many of Karolina’s own paintings is located up the barn stairs.
Naramatian Doug and and Swiss-born Karolina are masters of all things lavender and volley rapid-fire interesting lavender facts as we bask in the sun on a bench overlooking the lavender with the farm’s pear trees in the distance.
There are about 140 varieties in the world, about 50 in Canada and U.S. and 17 on the farm.
The word “lavender” comes from the Latin word lavandula which comes from the Latin verb lavare which means “to wash”. The Romans used lavender to scent their bathwater and wash their clothes.
Lavender is part of the mint family.
Calming, soothing, its long been used as a home remedy for sleeplessness and nervousness and as a disinfectant.
Monks spread lavender on their monastery floors and its scent was released when they walked on. It was believed to have helped ward off malaria.
It takes 100 kilos of lavender to make just one litre of lavender oil (which Doug distills after the harvest in July).
Different varieties of lavender are used for different products. For example, Royal Velvet and Folgate are great oil producers and other lavenders are grown specifically for use in cooking and for the lovely lavender lemonade offered at Green Man.
Karolina walked me through a typical day at the height of lavender season in July. “On harvest day we start to cut very early in the morning at 4:30 a.m. before the heat of the day. With a crew we cut and hang the bunches everywhere to dry and quit at 11 a.m. when it’s too hot to keep going. I then open the shop, water all the plants in pots, clean the fountain, make the lavender lemonade (we go through gallons when it’s hot) and generally tidy up. It sounds like a lot of work but I don’t think it’s a hard life. I would much rather be doing this than sitting in a cubicle. It’s a beautiful life and changes every month.”
Many of the farm’s lavender plants are coming to the end of their approximately 14-year lifespan and the couple will begin replacing them with new vigorous ones row-by-row. They may also be planting the remaining meadow with an additional thousand plants. The farm is also a stop for Emily Carr University of Art and Design plein air painters again this summer and will be the sight for many wedding photos. Visitors can also get a total lavender immersion by sleeping like babies in its bright orange rental cottage.
1/2 cup berry sugar or superfine sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp rice flour (gives it a nice texture)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
2 tsp dried Forest Green Man culinary lavender
Preheat oven to 275F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix sugar, flours and salt together in a bowl. Add the cold butter and toss until coated. Add the lavender and pulse in a food processor for 10 seconds. Shape into a ball and roll the ball on a lightly floured surface into a log shape about 2 inches thick. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the plastic and use a sharp knife to cut thin slices (about 1 cm thick) and place an inch apart on the baking sheet. Use a fork to poke the centre of each cookie to stop air bubbles from forming.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the cookies are lightly golden. Transfer to a cooing rack.
Off to the greenhouse to propagate some lavender from cuttings with Karolina’s tips…tomorrow’s post.