By Caitlin Switzer REGIONAL—( February 6) Sunny Howland and her husband Bob Hoinghaus tucked the first 200 lavender plants into the ground at their Austin farm in spring of 2011. Today, Howland is the new board president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado—and she is thrilled about the growth facing the organization and the industry itself.
“As I got to know other growers, I found it to be a good fit,” Howland said of the Lavender Association, which was founded by garden designer Kathy Kimbrough of Grand Junction. “I didn’t expect to be voted president quite so soon, but I am very excited. We have four board members stepping down, four remaining on the board, and four coming in. There is so much energy and excitement—we are looking to add some additional activities this year.”
The non-profit has just announced the 2013 Colorado Lavender Festival Art Contest, a competition with a $500 prize, open to both fine and graphic artists, to design the original artwork that will be used to promote this year’s festival, scheduled for July 12-14 in Downtown Palisade. The deadline for contest entries is Feb. 23, and winner will be announced March 1. The Lavender Association of Western Colorado’s annual festival, now in its third year, continues to be the only one of its kind in Colorado.
For Olathe lavender grower JoAnne Seymour, the passion for the small purple shrub is one that continues to grow.
“Conditions here are just so perfect,” Seymour said. “People are always looking for small acreage specialty crops that you can enjoy and maintain without a lot of equipment and still make money. You can get 2,500 plants to an acre. It thrives under hot, dry conditions, and no predators eat it—even the deer won’t eat lavender! And it brings in honeybees—when I go out to harvest, the bees are right there with me, although I have never been stung.”
A retired school counselor, Seymour took a master gardener class with the Colorado State University Extension when she moved to the area seven years ago. “My best friend was a friend of Kathy Kimbrough, who founded the Lavender Association and was our first chair,” Seymour said. “I got kind of curious—I thought growing lavender might be something I could do. There are not a lot of startup costs, and you can experiment with the different types. We have not found one that does not grow well here. Some kinds are better for culinary uses, some are better for crafts, some are better for creams and potpourris.”
Seymour had taken an aromatherapy class at the Delta-Montrose Area Vo-Tec, and found herself more curious than ever about the benefits of lavender. When her husband crushed his left foot in a serious accident, JoAnne called up her friend and fellow lavender grower Roxi Lane. “She is a nurse at Delta Hospital, and very big on organic farming and distilling,” Seymour said. “I asked her to come over and look at my husband’s foot. It was not infected, but the healing process was going nowhere. His foot was swollen, and had black wounds from being crushed. About that same time, I was assigned a research paper in class, to write about an essential oil we had used.”
Although Seymour had not yet used any oils, Lane recommended that they bathe the afflicted foot in a combination of three essential oils, one of which was lavender. “I had started taking pictures of my husband’s foot every day,” Seymour said. “I decided we had nothing to lose—the foot looked like hell. The foot was immersed in a gallon of warm water with one drop of each oil. “Within half an hour the swelling had gone down,” Seymour said. “Even Roxi was shocked—none of us had expected such remarkable results.”
Seymour continued the treatments three times a day, and by the time her husband returned for a checkup, his doctor could hardly believe the change.
“We had discontinued pain medication—everything but the antibiotics,” Seymour said. “My husband is a big guy—six foot eight and rough and tumble—but to this day he still adds lavender to his bath. It’s not about the fragrance, but for therapeutic reasons.” Seymour said she continues to be excited about the work Kathy Kimbrough is doing—now that Kimbrough has stepped down as chair of the Lavender Association, she and retired CSU Extension Agent Curtis Swift have obtained a grant to study the science and uses of lavender.
“This really sets us apart from the rest of the world,” Seymour said. “Lavender is going to become an even bigger deal than it is now—because of those two people, it will become a scientific issue.”
Horticultural tech Susan Rose at the Colorado State University Extension office in Grand Junction also credits Kathy Kimbrough’s enthusiasm for helping to build the region’s growing lavender industry.
“I think we have discovered, largely through the passion of the Lavender Association, that this crop does extremely well here,” Rose said. “It is well adapted to this climate—it likes it hot and dry. You don’t need a large area to grow a successful commercial crop—it is a small plant. There is more interest in lavender coming along all the time.”
Rose said she herself has a few plants at home, but that the Extension grows a wide variety of different lavender varieties. “With lavender, what growers have found is that the higher the altitude at which it is grown, the better the quality of the essential oils,” Rose said.
For gardeners who just can’t wait to experience the fresh fragrance and vivid blooms, she suggests heavy mulching or use of a frost blanket to prevent the vagaries of the weather from ruining plants. “If your lavender or shrubs are very dry you can water,” she said, “But only if the air temperature is above freezing!”