Fresh, field-grown, organic lavender

by Debra Prinzing on June 26, 2010

in Come along with us on a farm visit,Growers,Home-Grown,The Book Project

A lavender life

A hillside of organically-grown lavender thrives in Malibu, California

My friend Diane Carter lives a double life. By day, she heads administration for a huge health care organization. But on the weekends and evenings, you can find Diane submerged in lavender – one acre of it. Let’s just say it’s a toss-up between Diane and the bees. Not sure whether she or the thousands-strong bee population is more smitten with the lavender’s intoxicating fragrance. Today, all things being equal, the human admirers of ‘Provence’ and “Hidcote’ were definitely outnumbered by the pollinators.

Diane Carter, standing in front of her English greenhouse at the edge of her lavender fields

Diane and I met about 18 months ago through Ventura Co. Master Gardeners. She had taken several years off from the corporate life to pursue her personal passions, including gardening. Diane and her fellow MG-friend Janna Calkins kind of adopted me after I wrote about their community gardening efforts for 805 Living magazine.

I kept hearing about the hillside property below Diane’s house in Malibu and was impressed to learn she had planted row upon row of lavender there (replacing an overgrown hillside of weeds). The ocean climate in Malibu seems well suited for growing this woody, Mediterranean herb. Diane’s soil is relatively sandy and has excellent drainage. After just three seasons, now that they are established and mature, the 400-plus lavender plants are thriving with little or no water.


Diane is committed to 100-percent organic farming practices.

She buys lavender starts from a California grower who supplies her with organically-raised lavender and lemon verbena (which Diane confesses to loving even more than she loves lavender – one whiff and you’ll understand why!)

Diane also believes in utilizing every part of the plant. This time of year, lavender is being harvested like crazy. Some of it will go with Diane tomorrow morning to the Malibu Farmer’s Market where fresh-cut bunches will delight locals.


Diane harvests lavender with her scythe

Other bunches will hang from racks in her garage-studio to dry for future floral crafts and potpourri projects.

After harvesting the fragrant sprigs, Diane even gleans the leftover stems, bundling and drying them for use as fireplace starters. Dried flower heads are broken up to create the heady filling for sachets. Dreamy, all of it.

I’m looking forward to returning on July 4th for Diane’s peak-of-season harvest party. I’ll try to use some of the harvesting tricks I learned from her today.

Diane uses a No. 8 scythe to cut fresh lavender. The tool looks ancient, from the old-world, long before the arrival of electric clippers or gas-powered trimmers. You grip a bunch of lavender in your hand and use the C-shaped metal knife, with a serrated blade, to saw off the long, slender stems. If you make an “O” with your index finger and thumb, that’s approximately the size of a lavender bunch.

Looking gorgeous in a teal vase

Wow – what a dazzling combination

So lucky me, I left Diane’s with about 10 generous bunches of lavender – Provence – harvested at her farm today. On my way back home, I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up groceries. That’s when I noticed the 5-stem bunch of California-grown sunflowers. Hmmm. It seemed like the perfect combination: Lavender plus Sunflowers. Enjoy my bouquet. It smells as good as it looks.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Aenne Carver July 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I cannot wait to buy this book- a subject dear to my heart. I worked as a floral designer before becoming a Master Gardener. These flower farmers work so hard yet gracefully, and they preserve a wonderful way of life- flowers add so much Joie De Vive to daily living.
I also enjoy your newsletter and this blog to see a sneak peak of the book. You keep on inspiring me Debra- sorry to lose you to Seattle. But, I am from Oregon and understand the pull of the Northwest. My Dad still lives in Sisters, so I get a “fix” of my old haunts. Wishing you the best!
herbally yours,
Aenne Carver

Heidi Bieber July 27, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I have been searching for the perfect Sunflowers and Lavender picture. I absolutely LOVE the picture on your website called, “Sunflowers and Lavender” and was wondering if you could send me a jpeg of it? It is my hopes that I could make one 8 x 10 print of it to display it in my living room.


Dr. Elizabeth M. Kolve January 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Dear Debra
My name is Elizabeth Kolve and I live in Agoura, Ca. I also have a small 5 acre ranch outside of Tehachipi, Ca (The Bright Lake area). My goal is to slowly move from Psychotherapy to becoming an Organic Lavender Farmer. Your doing what I’d like to. Could I meet with you at your farm or the next time the Ventura Co. Master Gardeners get together? Any help would be greatly appreciated. 805 497 2555 office or 818 456 2528 cell.

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