LAVEN­DER GAIN­ING POP­U­LAR­ITY QUICKLY IN COLORADO

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - Pho­tos by Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post By Colleen Smith

If you can’t travel to Provence this sum­mer, you can still get a sense of the South of France’s fa­mous laven­der fields right here in Colorado. Laven­der is a com­mer­cial crop that has grown so pop­u­lar in the state that laven­der fes­ti­vals will be staged both at Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens Chat­field Farms in Lit­tle­ton and in Pal­isade in July.

The an­ti­sep­tic, fra­grant, fla­vor­ful herb is a key in­gre­di­ent in medic­i­nal, culi­nary and or­na­men­tal ap­pli­ca­tions. As if that weren’t enough, laven­der flour­ishes in rocky soil, tol­er­ates drought and at­tracts pol­li­na­tors.

“Al­though laven­der is still rel­a­tively new to Colorado, it is gain­ing in pop­u­lar­ity as a cash crop statewide for many rea­sons,” said Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens hor­ti­cul­tur­ist Angie Jewett. Jewett serves as sec­re­tary of the board of di­rec­tors for the Laven­der As­so­ci­a­tion of

Western Colorado and tends the 700-plus laven­der plants at Chat­field Farms.

“The plant is very well suited to our re­gion, loves lots of sun, low wa­ter and is gen­er­ally pest re­sis­tant.”

Grasshop­pers pose the big­gest threat to com­mer­cial laven­der fields, but the shrubs have an edge over many crops be­cause laven­der is a peren­nial.

“Rather than plant new seed ev­ery year, which is the case for corn, can­taloupes and other an­nual Colorado crops, laven­der plants can re­li­ably pro­duce a good yield of flow­ers for up to 10 years, some­times longer,” she said. They’ve ex­pe­ri­enced zero crop loss with most of the va­ri­eties they se­lected, she said.

In 2014, the year prior to dig­ging into the pro­ject of mass­plant­ing of laven­der at Chat­field Farms, botanic gar­dens hor­ti­cul­tur­ists trav­eled to Pal­isade and Grand Junc­tion to con­sult com­mer­cial laven­der grow­ers. Paola Le­garre, a pioneer in Colorado’s com­mer­cial laven­der ven­ture, owns Sage Cre­ations Or­ganic Farms in Pal­isade. She started her laven­der farm 12 years ago with 40 plants (and later lost count at 1,500).

She cultivates three species and 55 cul­ti­vars thriv­ing on five acres.

Le­garre be­gan prop­a­gat­ing laven­der eight years ago. She sells laven­der plants both whole­sale and re­tail and grew the La­van­dula

(English laven­der) and (lavendin) in Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens’ Laven­der Gar­den. In Pal­isade, her English laven­der pro­duces at least two har­vests. Her Buena Vista va­ri­ety flow­ered three times for the past two sea­sons.

Le­garre also sells dried laven- der for bou­quets, wreaths, pot­pourri and other dec­o­ra­tive pur­poses. The ev­er­green shrubs with sil­very leaves bloom not only in laven­der col­ors, but also dark pur­ple, pink and even white. To pre­serve laven­der, she bun­dles blos­soms and hangs bou­quets up­side down in a dry, dark cool place.

An­other branch of Le­garre’s laven­der busi­ness pro­duces per­sonal care prod­ucts: laven­der lo­tion, balm, oil, spray and a forth­com­ing soap. For max­i­mum po­tency, Le­garre har­vests laven­der early in the morn­ing. “Es­sen­tial oils are in the flower buds,” she said, “but by midday, oils evap­o­rate.”

Colorado of­fers ideal grow­ing con­di­tions for the herb, and Le­garre points out that. “Where grapes grow, laven­der will grow.”

Laven­der and grapes meet in laven­der wine, the top seller at at Talon Win­ery Brands in Pal­isade, ac­cord­ing to Brian Stevens, head wine­maker.

“St. Kathryn Cel­lars was the first in the val­ley to pro­duce a laven­der wine, back in 2011,” Stevens said. “We thought the first batch of 500 gal­lons we made would last five years, but it ended up sell­ing out in 10 months.”

Grow­ing tips

For best re­sults grow­ing laven­der, plant in full sun and well drained soil. Let laven­der dry out be­tween wa­ter­ing. Most laven­der fa­tal­i­ties re­sult from over­wa­ter­ing.

“Newly planted laven­der needs to be wa­tered ev­ery other day or so for the first few weeks,” Jewett said. “After the plants es­tab­lish, they can be wa­tered once ev­ery week or even less, de­pend­ing on your spe­cific soil con­di­tions and sun ex­po­sure.”

Laven­der doesn’t re­quire much fer­til­izer, but Le­garre does feed older plants fish emul­sion.

“An­nual prun­ing, or shear­ing, is rec­om­mended to in­crease stem pro­duc­tion and make your laven­der fill out,” Jewett said. At Chat­field Farms, they prune in the spring, usu­ally in late May.

“If plant­ing laven­der in your gar­den, select more than one cul­ti­var so plants bloom at dif­fer­ent times to keep flow­ers and pol­li­na­tors in the gar­den,” Le­garre said.

Le­garre’s sea­sonal rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude Fol­gate, Mun­stead and Betty Blue va­ri­eties for early blooms; True Grosso for mid-sea­son blooms; and the late­bloom­ing Royal Vel­vet.

Le­garre will host an open farm dur­ing the Laven­der Fes­ti­val in Pal­isade and will teach a class at the Chat­field Farms Laven­der Fes­ti­val. But in the mean­time, she has one more bit of ad­vice for grow­ing laven­der in Colorado.

“Stay away from Provence,” Le­garre said, re­fer­ring to the va­ri­ety, not the city. “It’s not cold-hardy.”

A bee snacks on a laven­der plant at the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens Chat­field Farms in Lit­tle­ton.

Chat­field Farms will host the Laven­der Fes­ti­val on July 15. It will in­clude more than 800 laven­der plants, as well as laven­der demon­stra­tions, prod­ucts, farm tours, mu­sic and kid ac­tiv­i­ties.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

The Laven­der Gar­den at the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens Chat­field Farms in­cludes over 800 laven­der plants.

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