Adapting lavender to a tricky foothills climate
By: Margaret Butler
The aroma of lavender — sweet but not too sweet; slightly more herbal than floral — is unmistakable. Its calming fragrance has an emotional impact. Historically, you had to visit Provence, France, to bask in picturesque fields of purple and green. In North America, Sequim, Washington, is the acknowledged lavender capital.
But widespread demand — and one determined couple in the Blue Ridge foothills — is bringing lavender closer to home. Elf Leaf Farm, located in Landrum, South Carolina, opened three years ago and is busy adapting the stunning plant to an unlikely locale.
Allison and Derek Garrett always dreamt of having a farm. When their youngest child flew the nest, they hatched their plan. A small plot of land turned into 50 acres, and before they knew it, they were operating a fully functioning farm. After clearing their newly acquired plot of brambles, the Garretts settled on their chosen crop: lavender. They began testing several varieties and planted their first crop in 2017. Today, Elf Leaf Farm features four varieties for crafting and cooking purposes.
“People love to wear it, bathe in it, wash with it, and even eat it. It’s very versatile,” Allison says. As a soap-craftswoman of many years, she enjoys a surplus of lavender from Elf Leaf Farm’s crop. Her homemade soaps, lotions, and sprays now have a permanent store front at the farm. The versatile wildflower is also known for its fashionable addition to the culinary world. Lavender can be used to flavor sugar, syrup, coffees, teas, lemonade, waters, wines, and many other recipes. “The buds can even top salads,” Allison says.
The store at Elf Leaf Farm carries edible products, including baked goods, Herbs de Provence spice blend, intriguing and mouthwatering lavender pepper, and lavender-infused honey (pollinated by the farm’s resident bees).
Lavender’s increasing popularity and versatility made it an easy decision for the new farmers. However, growing lavender in a tricky Southern foothills climate isn’t without challenges. Native to the Mediterranean, lavender prefers sandy soil, not the densely compacted red clay found in this area. Lavender thrives in temperate weather and doesn’t fancy South Carolina’s humidity nor the late spring freezes that happen at this mountain elevation. “We’ve killed our fair share,” Allison admits. However, the couple remains optimistic.
With the right care, “lavender is an adaptable plant,” she insists. “It can be grown in the desert of Arizona and as far north as Ontario.”
Nevertheless, the Garretts have had to learn a few tricks. For example, instead of planting directly into the ground, Elf Leaf Farm uses raised beds to aerate the roots. Constructed mounds help keep the roots warm during late freezes. Additionally, they’ve amended the soil with a bit of sand — “but not too much. Adding sand to clay can make bricks,” Allison explains. They’ve also discovered that adding gravel to the mulch helps reflect sunlight to the plant.
Experimentation with different varieties has also helped them find lavender adaptable to this specific area. “Different varieties serve different purposes. Some types are ideal for crafting and soap making while others are for distilling oil or culinary purposes. Some of the best-smelling varieties you wouldn’t want to eat,” she explains.
The couple are members of the U.S. Lavender Association. They visit annual lavender conferences where they can connect with other growers and learn from their successes and failures.
During June, Elf Leaf Farm welcomes visitors to enjoy the allure of lavender fields, learn how the plant is grown, and harvest some themselves via a few coveted weeks of “You Pick.” The season is short, and the purple is brightest in the middle of the month. However, the scents and flavors of the blossom linger long after.
“We love having a farm and sharing it with others. Over the coming years, we hope to increase the number of varieties and types we offer.”
Elf Leaf Farm, 141 North Campbell Road, Landrum, SC. The farm will be open 9am- 4pm for You-Pick Thursdays through Sundays starting the second week of the month (June 9-12, June 16-19, and June 23-June 26). The farm store is open during You-Pick and by appointment. Visit elfleaffarm.com or call 864-331-9866 for more information. (Also find Elf Leaf Farm lavender and related products at the Landrum Farmer’s Market 8am-12pm Saturdays through October.)