What started as a single, abandoned lavender plant now fills a two-acre plot of land where over 7,000 grow.
The small farm, Copper Mountain Lavender, gets its namesake from the mountain it is nestled below, outside of Blewett, B.C., just west of Nelson. The farm receives sun year-round, which can be rare in the mountains that offer shade.
Rebecca Plaine, who owns the farm with her husband, Chris Duncan, ended up in the Kootenays after Duncan’s job led them to the area. Having both grown up on or amongst farms, Plaine discovered a lavender plant abandoned in the flower beds of the almost nine-acre property they purchased seven years ago. She transferred it to a sunny spot and ended up with a big, beautiful lavender bush, sparking the idea of a full farm.
Being in the mountains, the soil is gravelly and sandy, said Plaine.
“If [lavender] can grow in that soil, that’s the direction to go.”
After building their shop and renovating their house, they began rototilling and discing the field in 2018, preparing the land for the first planting in 2019. Plaine took a week off of work and from dusk until dawn, planted 2,600 plants, primarily herself. Duncan helped when he could, although as a helicopter pilot fighting wildfires, his time was limited.
Five varieties of lavender were put into the ground: Hidcote, Folgate and Royal Velvet, which come from English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and produce sweet, soft scents best used for culinary purposes; and Grosso and Phenomenal, French lavenders (Lavandula x intermedia) with higher aromatic scents, often used in soaps and potpourris.
In 2021, after observing which varieties of lavender did best in the area (Phenomenal and Hidcote), an additional 4,400 were planted. This was only possible with the help of neighbours, friends and family during a planting party.
Twelve-hundred plants were planted during one of the days. Then, throughout the rest of the week, lavender plugs were put into organic biodegradable peat moss containers and, lastly, into organic soil, helping the roots establish themselves in a healthy environment.
“We focused on the symbolic relationship between the plants … Both [lavender and clover] give back to the environment in the sense that they provide nectar for the bees, butterflies and all these helpful insects that the environment needs, and it contributes toward the crop pollination and the longevity of a natural environment,” said Plaine.
Not only does clover give back to the pollinators, but it also keeps the grasses down and helps retain the moisture needed for vegetation. The couples’ sheep also help by grazing the lavender fields, providing manure and fertilizing the crop.
There has been a lot of trial and error at the farm.
Plaine focuses on the branching systems of the lavender plants, keeping them small so they can grow more robust, allowing the branches to withstand breakage that can come with the heavy snow loads in the Kootenays, often over four feet tall.
“As [the plant] gets older, it will start getting holes in the centre, which, of course, doesn’t look pretty. It’ll keep growing, but the chances are you could lose your plant due to breakage of the main system.”
Harvesting the English lavender typically begins in the last two weeks of June, and the French lavender is usually ready in early July. Depending on the climate, a second harvest is possible, but Plaine prefers to leave the plant, allowing insects to prepare themselves for winter.
The lavender is grown without sprays and as a sustainable crop it doesn’t need much, said Plaine. They’re conscious of producing minimal waste, from the products they make with lavender to their packaging. Included in their online shop are soaps, balms, bath salts, culinary lavender, sugar, jams, lavender bundles and more.
“Everything is environmentally friendly with either being able to be recycled, composted or re-purposed through the containers or packaging. Everything has to have the environmental component associated with it. At least that way, we’re trying to give back with our products.”
In the future, the couple plans to take a cross-country road trip across France, stopping at different farms to learn more about how lavender began.
Aside from the commercial aspect of their farm, there’s the personal one, too.
“[Our farm] smells so good. When you need that break, you lay down in the middle of the rows of lavender and clover and take in the beauty and aroma. Just walking through the fields and rubbing your hands on top of the blooms releases their aroma. There’s no stress out there.”
Plaine describes their farm as a “beautiful piece of land in the mountains,” surrounded by community.
“It takes friends, family and a neighbourhood to create a wonderful farm.”
Visit coppermountainlavender.com to learn more.