Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting a lavender farm for the first time. My family and I strolled through the endless rows of lavender and dreamed of purple fields long after we had returned home. While you can close your eyes and breathe in the heady aroma, you'll want to keep them open to take in all of the lovely scenery on this special farm in beautiful Bucks County.
Over the last 264 years, various farmers on Carousel Farm have raised cows, horses, exotic animals and corn. For most of the past decade, Niko Christou and partner David Braff have been growing lavender on the farm. The venture was inspired by a trip to the south of France where lavender fields dot the countryside of Provence.
Christou, an organic farmer, grows more than 15,000 plants that include both French and English varieties. Each one is planted, pruned and harvested by hand. Varieties Grosso, Munstead and Hidcote do well at the farm.
Cultivating lavender on a grand scale takes a bit of knowledge, trial and error and luck with the weather. Siting the plants is most important, Christou said. The plants prefer a sunny location and excellent drainage. If you grow lavender on your property, do not allow the plants to get top heavy, rather trim them throughout the season as you cut the lavender for use, or make sure you cut the plants back no later than the middle of September, according to Christou. Try the English varieties 'Munstead' and 'Hidcote' for best results in this area.
"Add a bit of compost to the soil, and maybe some sand to improve drainage if you need to," Christou said. "The plants need a higher pH, so you may want to add some lime to the soil," he adds. The plants will thrive especially on a slope or raised bed.
Christou is a talented photographer, who previously earned a living as a studio photographer in New York City. He enjoys photographing the farm's animals, lavender fields, gardens, and buildings. He has distilled a vast collection of images in his latest endeavor, a newly published book, Images in Time—Portrait of a Bucks County Farm. For more information on the book, look for updates on the Carousel Farm website.
"I enjoy watching the visitors enjoy our farm," Christou said. "Walking through the fields makes everyone happy...this is a very special place for all to enjoy."
While the plants are at their peak for another month or so, the farm is lovely in the fall as well, says Christou. Visitors can enjoy the farm and shop every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for free. For a private tour during the week, contact the farm. Tours run through Sept. 30, Monday through Friday. Groups of 10 or more may select a day and time in advance. Scheduled tours run every Wednesday at 10 a.m. for individuals and groups less than ten. The tour fee is $10 per person.
During the tour you can stroll through the fields. You will see how essential oils are extracted from the lavender, and you'll learn about lavender harvesting and drying. You can visit many of the restored antique buildings on the farm. Enjoy the enchanting animals that include llamas, Scottish cows, miniature donkeys, horses, chickens, sheep and goats. Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy under a tree or in the gardens.
Guests may purchase lavender products such as lotions, soaps, potpourri, sachets, gift baskets, candles, lavender cookies and lavender honey. Lavender plants that are propagated from cuttings are also for sale.
Carousel Farm Lavender: 5966 Mechanicsville Rd. in Mechanicsville, Pa. (entrance on Sheffield Drive). Tel: 917-837-6903