Colorado Purple Mountain Majesty: “Heritage Lavender” home to over 30 different varieties of lavender | TheFencePost.com

Colorado Purple Mountain Majesty: “Heritage Lavender” home to over 30 different varieties of lavender

Serenity on stems, lovely lavender's romantic yet earthy scent harkens back to the French countryside. Perhaps Colorado is the "new France," welcoming acres and acres of the purple floral herb.

Trudy Perry's rural heritage likewise harkens back to the soil through Swedish ancestors' agricultural roots, transplanted to Colorado in 1899. Husband Bob Perry similarly shares a family farming history, in Kansas. Perry combined those genetic pasts and her own love of the land when she started her thriving Berthoud, Colo., business.

Over the past 30 years, the enthusiastic woman enjoyed growing a few lavender plants in her various gardens. But 2011 was the catalyst for her current depth of involvement when she planted a cutting garden that included a dozen of the plants. By that summer, she started to research ways to harvest, use and preserve the bumper crop of pretty purple flowers. She admits to quickly becoming obsessed.

"It is such a fascinating, versatile herb; I kept digging (no pun intended) and came across an ATTRA (a National Sustainable Agriculture Assistance program) article about lavender production," Perry recalled.

That online information prompted the avid gardener to tend 250 plants on their 1½-acre market garden west of Berthoud. Within a year, the business grew as prolifically as the lavender. Perry previously had no idea how many people love it. To honor the agricultural heritage of their family, the Perrys named their growing endeavor "Heritage Lavender."

Early on, they rounded a learning curve. The first year they planted in rows, a mysterious adversary arrived. A few uprooted plants greeted Perry each morning, pulled up and toppled over as if something had roughed them up and nibbled at the leaves. For weeks, she replaced successive victims in random areas throughout the garden.

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One evening at dusk, she spotted the offender. A perturbed cottontail rabbit munched and then spit leaves, eventually yanking the plant out of the ground, as if upset by its pungent taste. Perry then realized plant labels proclaiming "rabbit and deer resistant" were not 100 percent accurate.

FAMILY BUSINESS

In this family affair, the Perrys and daughter Julia do the majority of the off-season work. Their son, Alan, contributes photography, website and social media expertise. Extended family and friends cheerfully pitch in during the busy spring/summer season to help plant, harvest or help at summer markets. And Ricki, the Perrys' cat, enjoys occasional strolls through the lavender.

A semi-woody perennial varying in height and width from 2-4 feet, established lavender plants can last up to 20 years in perfect growing conditions, Perry said. Plants are considered mature at year three. Color, aroma and yield vary depending on the species/cultivar. Like with any crop, disease, wind, temperature variations and planting conditions can impact the health and longevity of lavender.

Perry said that information from Virginia McNaughton's book, "Lavender, The Grower's Guide" lists more than 200 species and cultivars of the plant, not all of which are cold hardy to Colorado or zone 5 along the front range. The two types of lavender that do well in Colorado are Lavandula angustifolia (or English lavender), and a hybrid cross of Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandual Latfolia, also known as Lavandin.

Of the 30 different varieties the Perrys grow, their best performers are the L. angustifolia group. Wind and temperature extremes take their toll on most Lavandin strains.

Perry said lavender does best in full sun and well-drained soil. She inserts each 3.5-inch plant into a hand-dug hole twice the size of the root ball using traditional perennial planting methods. A drip system placed along the row provides an adequate moisture source because, once roots are established, drought-tolerant lavender has low water demand. It's important to monitor water/rain levels because over-watering encourages disease and eventual demise of the plant, Perry said.

WEED PRESSURE

Weeds are every gardener's scourge. The Perrys use weed cloth between rows and hand-weed between the plants. Weed pressure diminishes when lavender is full-size because minimal sunlight reaches the soil. She noted that one exception is bind weed, a constant enemy.

Based on cultivar, maturity and intended end use, harvest takes place during July and into early August using a small, curved hand scythe on individual plants. Rubber-banded bundles, consisting of approximately 125-135 stems each, are sold fresh or hung in the drying shed out of direct sunlight and with good air circulation for seven to 14 days for later use.

Other lavender is stripped from stems to serve as aromatic buds or culinary lavender. To speed up that time-consuming process, Bob built a machine patterned after an old seed cleaner. Some lavender is processed in a steam distillation unit for hydrosol (floral water) and essential oil. Scones and other fancy pastries offer creatively luscious ways to incorporate lavender.

A greenhouse added in 2015 allows for propagation of cuttings from some varieties of their own plants.

"Thanks to the addition of our greenhouse, I now enjoy playing in the dirt year-round," Perry said.

Additionally, the Perrys purchase lavender plugs from wholesale nurseries to offer a broader selection of varieties, some of which are difficult to propagate without highly-specialized equipment.

Colorado apparently lives up to the name "purple mountain majesty." Perry said there are 35 to 50 growers in Colorado, based on listings from the Lavender Association of Western Colorado and the U.S. Lavender Growers Association. She suspects other farmers grow it to supplement their orchards, flower crops and bee populations.

Perry is glad there don't appear to be any adverse effects in lavender from bee colony collapse disorder. In fact, Heritage Lavender welcomed its first hive in spring 2017, placed by Pappa Joe's Honey of Loveland, Colo. The Perrys plant several extra types of flowers to attract bees and other other pollinators, as well as extend their food supply after the lavender has been cut.

"We love all our pollinators; and they are captivating to watch," she said.

LAVENDER AND BEES

One Fort Collins, Colo., grower incorporates the buzzy little creatures in their name. Busy Bee Lavender Farm grows organic lavender from approximately 3,000 plants. They sell a multitude of products infused with the aromatic blossom, including soaps and oils, as well as hosting an annual U-Pick-It event.

Lavender's aroma can last from six months to several years, depending on the variety, product and storage (i.e. Lavandin vs. English, dry bouquet vs. sachet, open air with direct sunlight vs. sealed container or drawer sachet). The fragrance can range from a sweet, soft floral scent to a strong, somewhat camphoric one. Perry said that today's over-stressed society can greatly benefit from lavender, which offers relief through aromatherapy and as an herbal ingredient. ❖

Trudy Perry belongs to several growers’ associations, including: Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association; U.S. Lavender Growers Association; Lavender Association of Western Colorado; Colorado Proud, a program of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

A plethora of Heritage Lavender products are available online at http://www.heritagelavender.com. You can contact Trudy Perry at Heritage Lavender by email at heritagelavender@gmail.com or by phone at (303) 514-6504.

Busy Bee Lavender Farm can be reached by email at busybeelavenderfarm@yahoo.com or by phone at (970) 402-9604.