Some thought successful neuro-psychologists Gail Winslow and her husband, David McGee-Williams to be out of their heads when they bought land to farm lavender a decade ago. Today, the once-amateur gardeners tend the second-largest lavender farm in the United States.
On land near Mt. Shasta that was so remote it had no road or water and their real estate agent wouldn’t visit, the couple began planting French and English lavender. “We came here with the intention of growing an acre and just kept planting,” Winslow says. Today, 55,000 French and English lavender plants grow on the farm which happens to be at the same latitude and elevation of lavender growing in Provence, France.
Winslow says, “We both had grandparents who were farmers, so we grew up enjoying digging in a garden, getting dirty. The pace of farm life suited us, but we didn’t realize how much work it would be. We virtually didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t even know we’d need a tractor. As Robert Frost described in his metaphor: an ice cube on a hot stove ‘rides on its own melting’.”
The lavender is what kept them floating. At Mt. Shasta Lavender Farms, rows of intensely purple lavender contrast with a cloud-flecked blue sky and snow-capped Mt Shasta. It winds across the land, swaying to the rhythm of gentle Cascade breezes.
The scene is so compelling that Winslow says the couple “wept when the first lavender bloomed, we burst into tears.” Soon after, people began arriving to see the lavender in bloom. More and more arrived each year, to walk out among the lavender, to watch the distilling process and to paint or photograph the landscape. Many leave with souvenirs: sachets, hand lotion, bunches of decorative dried lavender, bottles of pure essential lavender oil, shortbreads and shower gels purchased at the farm’s store, which is open from June 15 to the first Saturday in August.
Even harvest time provides theater. “A troupe of dance students from the American Eurythmy School in nearby Weed does the harvesting each summer, moving with grace and energy.” Their school is all about living in harmony with the Earth. They sometimes sing as they harvest the lavender with hand sickles. “ ’How did we get this lucky?’ I ask myself,” Winslow says of the magical scene.
The manner in which the lavender is harvested at Mt Shasta seems fitting, as lavender is calming and soothing. It was used traditionally for cleansing and healing, as an insect repellent, and even as a sleep aid. “Just a spritz under the pillow or under one’s nose seems to help. As a dried plant, it’s beautiful, and as an herb it adds perfume and character. Some even claim the combination of lavender-infused whipped cream on pumpkin pie can win a man over,” Winslow says.
Though Winslow describes herself and her husband as “crazy gardeners,” the only thing crazy about them is their passion for lavender. More is found at www.mtshastalavenderfarms.com.