LAVENDER GAINING POPULARITY QUICKLY IN COLORADO
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.”
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.
The Lavender Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens Chatfield Farms includes over 800 lavender plants.