Curt Swift
CURT'S CORNER
CSU Extension Horticultural Specialist
Grand Junction Free Press Gardening Columnist

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May 3, 2012
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Lavender in W. Colo - the new cash crop?

Kathy Kimbrough (Palisade), Susan Metzger and Paula Bockman (Palisade), Lyle and Judy Millsap (Paonia), and Bob and Roxie Lane (Olathe), joined 150 other lavender growers in Sequim, Wash., this past weekend at the Sequim International Lavender Festival. I also had the privilege to attend this three-day conference.

Sequim, considered the "Lavender Capital of North America," has a group of well-organized lavender farmers, each with relatively small farms. The Sequim lavender industry is not anything like the miles and miles of lavender grown in Bulgaria, France or Russia, but is a very active group. Each of the Sequim farms are pretty much self-contained producing lavender and selling it as buds or bundles of flower, or distilling it into floral water (hydrosol) or essential oil.

Angel Farms sells everything they grow by word of mouth selling thousands of bundles of flowers and buds while others sell their products in on-farm markets. They draw in tourist with festivals some providing bed and breakfast lodging. Agritourist is part of their key to success.

Prior to going to Sequim, the Colorado group understood the area was much like western Colorado - hot and dry. The forest plants, deep green grass, and lush landscapes and wild plantings put that idea to rest very quickly. Sequim is said to be in a rain shadow but still gets much more precipitation than we do in western Colorado. The area is also quite mild and often foggy. At least that is the way we found Sequim this past weekend.

Dr. Tim Upson from the University of Cambridge, UK, was the noted speaker at the conference and gave several excellent talks on the geographical history of lavender and its many species and cultivars. Some species are better suited to high altitude, dry, well-drained soils, while some are better suited for warm, humid areas.

The lavender best suited for western Colorado are English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and the hybrids of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia (spiked lavender). The hybrids are called Lavandins (Lavandula x intermedia), and while slightly less hardy than L. angustifolia are much more robust and produce more bundles, buds and oil than the English lavender.

"Provence" is one of the lavandins used for oil production in France. I use the term English lavender for L. angustifolia but in some areas this species is called common lavender while the lavandins are often referred to as French lavender even though they are also called Spanish lavender. Lavandula stoechas is also called Spanish lavender. This demonstrates the problem with common names and why I like to use the botanical names such as Lavandula angustifolia.

On the ride from Sequim to Seattle for the flight home, Susan Metzger and I were discussing common names and she asked about the native fruiting shrub called serviceberry. In some parts of North America this is called juneberry, in other areas sarvis-berry is used, while the name saskatoon is common in the northern regions where this fruiting shrub grows. Alder-leaf shadbush and dwarf shadbush also are used to name this plant. For that reason I like to use botanical names, such as Amelanchier alnifolia, the botanical name of serviceberry, or is it juneberry?

Botanical and scientific names are used all over the world and even if the name is pronounced differently, once you have the spelling you know what the speaker to talking about. This is even true with plant diseases. When I was in Armenia years ago, the growers were having problems with a potato disease and I could not determine what they were telling me about from their pronunciation. As soon as they wrote down the scientific name I knew exactly what they were talking about and how to control it.

In a few years, western Colorado will be known as the "Lavender Capital of North America." We have a great climate and the dry conditions needed for this crop. We also have a dedicated group of growers and lavender groupies who want to see this industry bloom.

Lavender is a perennial crop which in this area we believe has longevity of at least eight to 10 years. These plants start to produce a commercial crop the third year with a smaller crop the second year.

The Lavender Association of Western Colorado's website, www.ColoradoLavender.org, lists local meetings and important information if you are interested in learning more about the potential for lavender production in western Colorado. Or, you can also give me a call at the Colorado State University Extension office in Mesa County at 970 244-1834 for information on the commercial production of lavender.

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Dr. Curtis E. Swift is the area horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at Curt.Swift@mesacounty.us, visit WesternSlopeGardening.org, or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com.


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The Post Independent Updated May 3, 2012 10:12PM Published May 3, 2012 10:11PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.