For the second year in a row, we enjoyed a tour of Purple Mountain Lavender Farm in Lakeside, Montana for our July workshop. 16 adventurous participants ventured into the mountainous Blacktail Heights, ascending through the forest over a winding dirt road. We journeyed all the way to the top, to find hidden at the end of the road, this beautiful farm.
We were welcomed by a breathtaking view over Flathead Lake. One immediately takes a deep breath and imagines how good life must be up here while sipping wine on warm summer evenings and taking in the view. Debbie, the owner of this beautiful farm, laughed that thought right off. She is glad when she can get the work around the farm done during the busy summer months.
Debbie took us down to the Lavender field that stretches westward toward the evening sun. Far away from any noise of civilization we noticed immediately a symphony of low pitched humming as soon as we entered the field. Sure enough, we were not only surrounded by an ocean of breathtakingly beautiful purple flowers but also its population of honey & bumble bees and butterflies. It takes a moment to shift from alert to 'it's ok', when bees are zipping by you and even try to land on your arm to check you out. (Side note: Honey bees are gentle and don't sting unless agitated - at least here in Montana, that is still a true statement.)
Over 30 different varieties of Lavender are grown on this field! As Lavender is not necessarily a winter hardy plant Debbie prefers the variety Lavender Augustifolia. In her opinion it is the best variety for our high mountain region. It grows fast in the spring and it’s bloom is usually done before the first real frost. (Fun fact: Many of the higher elevations in Montana can can expect frost almost every month out of the year!)
Did you know that all the Lavender on the farm is grown without any irrigation? Thus the quality and quantity of each harvest depends heavily on the weather of each year. Just like wine, the scent of Lavender and it’s yield in essential oils depends on the rain, temperatures, amount of sunshine and soil.
We all were wondering when is the perfect time to harvest Lavender? And the answer was ...'it depends'. And a general guideline is, if you want to use the lavender flowers for culinary purposes or potpourri, you can start harvesting when 25% of the flowers on a stem are open, for bouquets 50% and for essential oil 75%.
We eventually meandered back to the house where we visited the beautiful shop and then started to get our hand's on Lavender.
Debbie loaded the tables with overflowing baskets of fresh cut Lavender and showed us how to create lush Lavender bouquets.
Sitting at a place with a breathtaking view, taking Lavender sprigs from overflowing baskets and sorting them by length to assemble lush bouquets - well it is like a dream therapy.
Any meaning of stress simply evaporates in this peaceful environment.
We moved on to learn different techniques to separate Lavender flowers from the stem and to clean out the dust, leaving us with clean, fragrant Lavender flowers, which can be used for culinary purposes or potpourri.
We filled the flower buds in beautiful bags and closed them with a ribbon. Their aroma will keep your drawers and linen closets refreshed for a long time to come.Personally, I like the idea of sewing the little bag up and using it as a dryer bag. It lasts for about 30 laundry loads and you will never want to use toxic dryer sheets again.
Surrounded by all that Lavender and the great views, filled with knowledge how to plant, care, harvest and create with Lavender, one could see how we all relaxed more and more by the minute. When it was time to leave, everyone had a smile on their face and was excited to go home to share their Lavender tour memories with their family and friends.
Purple Mountain Lavender Farm is a real working farm and Debbie is always looking for volunteers. She pays in Lavender (seriously) and will offer you lunch as well. Why not give her a call that you would like to help for a day – it will be an experience of a lifetime.