Local lavender growers defy mid-winter blues with gathering

 Growing lavender on a slope helps with drainage and prevents “wet feet” which can kill lavender plants. (Submitted photo)

Growing lavender on a slope helps with drainage and prevents “wet feet” which can kill lavender plants. (Submitted photo)

by Emily Leeson

 Weed barrier cloth is a low-maintenance option when growing lavender. (Submitted photo)

Weed barrier cloth is a low-maintenance option when growing lavender. (Submitted photo)

 A row of lavender protected by weed barrier cloth, with tilled soil on top of the cloth to secure it. (Submitted photo)

A row of lavender protected by weed barrier cloth, with tilled soil on top of the cloth to secure it. (Submitted photo)

 Lavender cuttings from field-grown mother plants. (Submitted photo)

Lavender cuttings from field-grown mother plants. (Submitted photo)

Heather Morrissey had high hopes when she moved from Ontario to rural Nova Scotia with the intention of buying a farm to grow lavender. But that first winter though was tough. “I lost 2,000 plants,” recalled Morrissey. But she didn’t give up. In fact, she just got more serious about growing lavender in Nova Scotia’s climate. What she needed was tougher plants. 
From her surviving plants of that first harsh winter, Morrissey took cuttings and subjected them to the toughest conditions she could, in hopes of ending up with a crop ready to withstand everything a Maritime winter could throw at it. 
“Plants will acclimatize to their environment, so I put them on the most inhospitable hill on my farm where it is really windy and it gets all the nasty brunt of the weather,” she said. “The varieties that I grow up there, they are surviving and they’ve survived four winters now.”
From those troopers, Morrissey is continuing to expand her patch. Folgate is among her favourite varieties of lavender to work with now. A true lavender with iridescent violet-blue flowers, Folgate typically grows into a bushy shrub up to 75 centimetres high. It is good for both culinary use and oil distillation. “It’s very cold hardy and handles our yo-yo weather,” said Morrissey. “I’m very impressed with it.” 
It may have been a bit of trial by fire (or perhaps, more aptly, ice) but Morrissey is passionate about the lavender she’s growing and the industry opportunity she sees in the Maritimes. She’s been slowly finding out what works for her land in River John, N.S., and what will work best for her business. 
At first, Morrissey thought she was entering into a relatively small community of lavender growers in the Maritimes. In Ontario, she’d witnessed the development of the strong and influential Ontario Lavender Association, and she wondered if there might be enough growers here to try the same. Putting together a Facebook group for the concept, she was amazed that more than 60 people joined immediately.
“I’ve found people who I didn’t even know were here,” said Morrissey. “Everybody was just doing their own little quiet thing.” 
She estimates that about 90 percent of those early joiners are commercial growers, and eventually she’d like to see the group include all levels of lavender growers and farms, including interested gardeners, lavender processors, as well as retailers who can help drive the distinction of a Maritime brand of homegrown lavender.
The first meeting of the Maritime Lavender Association is set for March 10, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture office in Bible Hill. A webinar will be given by Dr. Sean Westerveld, the Ontario Lavender Association’s resource member from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, where he is the ginseng and herbs specialist. 
Additionally, Carole Coleman from Tansy Lane Herb Farm of Albert Mines, N.B., will speak to the group about the range of local lavender products they offer.
“We’ll get people introduced to each other,” said Morrissey, adding that people from all three Maritime provinces will attend the meeting. She said any growers from Newfoundland and Labrador are welcome to participate as well. “If there’s somebody growing there – we haven’t found anyone yet.”
For more information on the meeting, email Morrissey at purpletartanbee@gmail.com.
Meanwhile, Morrissey is also busy at home making plans for the future of her own corner of the lavender industry. “I’ve been playing around like the mad scientist in the kitchen,” she said. “Lavender chocolate, lavender-infused jams and jellies. Playing around with different recipes to see what works.” Her favourite so far is a lavender rub for salmon. 
“There’s a whole untapped potential for culinary lavender,” she said. “Most everybody thinks that you just have hand and body care, essential oils for aromatherapy, etcetera, but that’s not the only benefit of lavender. The whole eating aspect of it is totally untapped here.”
Working together as an industry will mean that more lavender growers can exchange ideas, try collaborations, and learn from each other. An association should also help to expand the industry and even entice more producers into it. 
“You start networking and helping others find a reason to grow the plant,” said Morrissey. “We’ve got serious potential here.