Well, Summer is over and as I sit inside on a rainy Fall day here in Dundee, Oregon, fire blazing, my heart is full of gratitude for this place and for a productive summer full of dreaming, planning, learning, tilling, planting, harvesting, and pruning.
May was all about the planning -- and waiting for the rain to stop for a few days so that the earth could dry out. We spent many a soggy afternoon walking our property, measuring possible rows, using stakes and twine to help us visualize and then draw up a little map of the space we imagined, complete with areas for picnic tables, hammocks, Adirondack chairs and a farmstand. In the meantime, I also researched which varieties of lavender would work best for what we wanted to do and contacted several growers in the area, hoping they might have some plants to sell me.
June and early July were all about the tilling. Our neighbor Steve was kind enough to let us use his tiller attachment, so that, with our tractor, we were able to till in a few hours what would have taken us a few weekends back in Escondido with a rototiller. We only tilled about a third of what we needed, thinking that if we tilled everything, weeds would take over before we had a chance to plant. This ended up being a mistake, however, because by the time we came back to it a few weeks later, the earth was rock solid. and we weren’t able to till as deeply as we had the first time. Plus the dust we kicked up probably irritated all of our new neighbors. The good news was that our son Josh was in town from Finland, along with his childhood friend Jesse, so they both had a chance to drive the tractor and eat a little dust.
Mid June up through September were all about the planting, which included installing weed cloth and irrigation. We quickly realized that anything and everything grows here in the beautiful hills of Dundee, including weeds. And since we had just come from a place where nothing grew (except with great effort), not even weeds, this was a new experience for us. Our lavender friends counseled us to use weed cloth to keep down the amount of weeding we would have to do. So that’s what we did: roll out the cloth, measure, cut big X’s, and then plant.
We started our planting with Lavendula x Intermedia Gros bleu, a beautiful deep blue cultivar that has a similar smell and shape to Grosso, but is just more elegant. It will be a spectacular cut flower, good for wreath making, sachets, and oil. I splurged and bought year-old plants for that first field because, by God, I wanted a harvest, even a small one. After we had gotten those plants in the ground, however, we realized that we needed to get our irrigation in, and we needed to get it in fast. It was late July, the rain had stopped, and it was getting difficult to drag the 3x connected hose around to water the new plants, which needed regular watering until they were established. So we paused in our planting and installed irrigation for the Gros Bleu and for the next cultivar waiting in the wings, Impress Purple. This is another beautiful deep blue variety with a thicker bloom, which would also be great for cut flowers, sachets, and oil. By the time that was done, the ground was pretty solid, even the tilled areas. However, Josh was still in town, along with his lovely Finnish girlfriend Hennariika, and they helped me plant the Impress Purple, building up their arm muscles in the process. And by late July, I got my lavender harvest from the Gros Bleu -- and I used the buds to fill heart sachets.
Once we were done with planting the Impress Purple however, we had to go back to tilling, and as noted earlier, this was not as easy as the first time. But we were able to till it enough to get in our next field of Lavendula Angustifolia Royal Velvet, which is not only another beautiful cut flower that holds its deep purple color, but which is also a fantastic culinary lavender. Since we planted the Royal Velvet in the lower part of the field (which tends to get soppy when it rains), we needed to do some mounding since lavender doesn’t like “wet feet” and will often die if left in standing water for too long.
And then there was the heat and the smoke from the fires raging in the Gorge. We had to pause for a few weeks because it was so hot and smoky and it would have been bad for both me and the new plants if I continued to plant. For a while our fields looked as dry and brown as they had in Escondido. But finally, as the first Fall rains began, my daughter Lauren and I were able to get in our last planting -- the ol’ tried and true Lavendula x Intermedia Grosso. And it started to look like Oregon again.
Although our field is only about ⅔ planted, there is still a lot we can do to move this dream forward before next Summer: this Winter I will work on soap and salve variations, dessert recipes, and more heart sachets. And when the rains ease up in the Spring, we will add more Grosso along with some French Fields. And we will work on our little storefront and the surrounding herb garden. And if we're lucky, next year at this time, I will be sitting inside in front of a roaring fire, listening to the rain, and thinking back to a purple summer of u-pick, farmers markets, wreath making classes, dinners in the field and wedding photographs.
And maybe even a few of you will visit. I hope you will!
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .