Fields across rural Michigan explode in purple and violet around mid summer, creating a feast for the senses.
These postcard-perfect scenes of lavender fields are reminiscent of Provence, but Michigan is becoming home to more and more lavender farms, part of a nationwide trend. Today, there are about 50 lavender farms in Michigan, says the Great Lakes Lavender Growers.
While Michigan’s climate and soil are not ideal for lavender, they’re suitable. Lavender likes sandy, well-drained soil, and there’s plenty of that in Michigan. The microclimates around the Great Lakes help as well (most of the farms are located near the lakes). Despite the sometimes harsh winters, the snow provides a blanket of protection.
Nationwide, lavender farms are part of an emerging trend in agritourism, where farms create other avenues beyond traditional crops to generate revenue -- apple picking, corn mazes, pumpkin patches. That form of farming has been around in Michigan a long time.
Many lavender farmers are beginning growers who turn to the herb as a business after careers in other fields. Often they have very little or no experience in farming. Most of the growers are women. Lavender farms have grown in popularity as people seek to experience farms first hand, as part of their leisure time or for educational reasons.
“It’s a novelty value,” says Dr. Wynne Wright, who is coordinator of the Great Lakes Lavender Growers and an MSU associate professor of community sustainability. “A large number of wild flower farms have also emerged in the last decades. These farmers are motivated by aesthetics and beauty, not wanting to use the landscape for food products. They want to create beauty.”
“And it’s exciting for people who come upon lavender farms. It’s always, ‘I didn’t know you could grow lavender in Michigan,’” Wright adds.
Many lavender farms offer u-pick bouquet options and sell a host of lavender products, including essential oil, sprays, lotions and ice cream and baked goods. Many welcome the public for special events as well.
Here are a few vignettes from Michigan lavender farms:
Lavender Hill Farms
“Lavender is not as cool as duct tape, but it comes pretty close,” says Bill Mansfield, owner of Lavender Hill Farms in Boyne City, pointing out that there’s an abundance of uses for the lovely lavender plant.
The farm’s gift shop is like a lavender treasure of maple syrup, soda pop, wine, hair products, body soap, hand lotion, and ice cream from Moomers in Traverse City, all infused with the sweet extract of lavender oil.
Aside from the products that Lavender Hill produces in-house, the owners are very conscientious in partnering with local artisans for most of their lavender goods. Mansfield also swears by lavender oil as a natural insect repellent, so he’ll sell lavender bug spray and even lavender mulch to protect your home and garden.
Mansfield says there's a huge demand in the culinary world for lavender in food and cocktails. The medicinal benefits are plentiful -- lavender is used for cancer patients, homeopathic remedies, skin abrasions, and anxiety, which attributes to the popularity of the growing number of lavender farms in Michigan.
Lavender Hill Farms employs a staff of 45 to help maintain the 33-acre farm of lavender fields, a lavender labyrinth, sunflowers, walking trails, golf cart guided tours, and the gift shop. The farm also is home to 13 very active hives of honey bees, about one million bees to be exact, and a beekeeper, who all work together to help pollinate the luscious lavender flowers once they’re in bloom.
Soil and climate play an enormous role in a successful lavender farm and growers of this beautiful plant do not take the winters off.
“Lavender requires good draining soil and does not like to have ‘wet feet.’ Our area is known for sandy, rocky soil with rolling hills that provide excellent drainage,” says Jess Chmielewski, director of marketing and operations.
Lavender plants thrive on sunlight, needing as much as six to eight hours a day, common during Michigan summers. Regardless of the harsh Michigan winters, the willowy white comforter of snow acts as a protector for the plant’s delicate roots.
Summerhouse Lavender Farm
“The West Michigan lakeshore soil is the perfect foundation for growing lavender,” says Eric Adams, owner of Summerhouse Lavender Farm in Fennville.
After purchasing the southwestern Michigan farm in the spring, Adams has developed a grand passion for growing lavender and is looking forward to carrying on the legacy of the previous owners, Dan McGavin and Carol Brown. Their vision was to build a space of tranquility that was community based and offered visitors a sense of respite, while being surrounded by the appealing aroma of lavender.
“The original owner wanted a spot for people to get away from the stresses of everyday life,” Adams says.
Summerhouse Lavender Farm draws people to the front of the peaceful property with perfect Provencal-like rows of the vibrant purple plants. In the rear of the property, there’s an array of French and English lavender plants along with many extras. A drying shed flourishes a lush scent of the sweet lavender where visitors can create their own wreath of fresh lavender flowers. There’s also a large Zen garden where guests can enjoy peace and positive vibes while inhaling the intoxicating scent of the lavender plants.
The most important visitors to the farm are the thousands of bees that are busy pollinating the lavender. The bees are a necessary component for lavender growth, along with gravelly soil, vibrant sunshine, and little water.
The uses for lavender are countless. From the culinary world, lavender is used in lemonade, tea, wine, honey, and cookies. And, if you haven’t tried lavender pizza with goat cheese and spicy sausage, you’re missing out, Adams says. Another surprising way to use lavender is in smoking meats like chicken and pork. The effects of lavender oil are long-lasting, roughly three to five years. Lavender contains around 14 chemicals, which have been known to calm pets, provide aromatherapy, and heal burns and cuts.
Northern Lavender Farm
A secret to the success of lavender growth at Northern Lavender Farm is in the fertilizer. Josh and Andrea McCaherty bought the Mesick property in northern Michigan in 2017 with an initial harvest of a one acre test plot. Their lavender crop has grown tremendously partly because of the addition of alpacas taking residency at the farm. In fact, there are 11 alpacas and three babies are expected to arrive soon.
“The manure from the alpacas is used on the lavender fields and makes the best fertilizer, along with the fertile soil that mirrors that of Provence, France,” Andrea McCaherty says.
Many of the more bountiful lavender fields in Provence and Michigan are strategically placed near the 45th parallel, where the climate welcomes sandy and hilly soil, along with plenty of sunshine and great drainage.
Not all lavender planted is the same. Each type of lavender plant is used for different purposes. For example, Grosso Lavender is a classic French lavender plant, containing the greatest amount of oils to be extracted, predominantly used for calming purposes, such as candles, bath oils, and body lotions. His mother says it’s one of the most popular herbs for relaxation, medicinal remedies, and culinary creations.
At Northern Lavender Farm, it’s truly a family business, including Andrea, her husband, Josh, and four children. The oldest is Elijah, who at age 10, knows more about lavender than any you’d expect any 10-year-old to know. Elijah serves as the unofficial tour guide of the fields and the alpacas. When asked why lavender has become so popular in Michigan, Elijah simply says, “Well, it smells good, of course.” And, yes, it does.
The Great Lakes Lavender Growers offers a partial list of its Michigan members. Go to Farms in our Organization