By LYDIA BERGLAR
Lookout Lavender Farm is gearing up for this year’s season. While the farm’s biggest event – June’s annual U-Pick event – is still months away, owners Bill and Alice Marrin are preparing for the upcoming season which includes a plant sale on April 29 and a Lavender 101 class on April 22.
The class costs $50, and registration is available online at www.lookoutlavender.com. Alice says, “I’ll teach you everything you need to know about how to grow lavender, from propagating to pruning to caring for the plant. It’ll be a Saturday morning here at the farm.”
Marrin will also be at the Master Gardeners expo at the Camp Jordan Arena on April 15 and 16, and she’s teaching a class at Crabtree Farms. Clumpies Ice Cream is also using the farm’s lavender in one of their flavors.
While the farm’s store sells products made in house, it also features products (such as cooking oil) made elsewhere. The Marrins don’t have a culinary certified kitchen, so they purchase cooking oil to sell.
Marrin explained, “There are two different types of plants: one is small and more floral, and that’s what you use for cooking. The aromatic ones are the big, tall ones you usually see in pictures. They have more camphor in them with more of a sharp smell. If you put this in your cooking, it’ll taste like you’re eating a bar of soap.”
Come summer, the farm will gear up for the sixth annual U-Pick (tentatively scheduled for June 9-24) and August’s harvest season. U-Pick brings a few thousand people to the farm, mainly from the tri-state area but with some traveling from farther away.
A $5 fee per adult (free for children under 12) allows you to enter the field for as long as you like. Each bundle of lavender you pick costs $7. The event is the Friday and Saturday evening of the first weekend, and all day Tuesday through Saturday for the next two weeks.
Even after thousands of guests, Marrin reports that there is still plenty to harvest from the farm’s 1,100 lavender plants. August is a busy time for them and seasonal workers as they collect the plants, distill buds into oil, and dry bundles of lavender. She said, “We have farm workers in the summer who are with WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms – and we’ve hired some Covenant College students.”
The Marrins purchased the property in 2016. “A great family lived here back in the day. As they died off, the descendents didn’t know what to do with it. Mr. McGuffey, a farmer, had bought it in the 20s.” For about a year, the couple focused on cleaning up the property and the house.
Alice explained how they decided to grow lavender. “We bought a test plant and put it in the ground and just ignored it,” Alice explained. “My thought was, if it doesn’t die, we could try this. We wanted to share our home, but we also wanted to put margins on it and not have it overwhelm us. It’s been a lot of fun to share it but also have our own life. We love the U-Pick time.”
In January 2017, they attended a lavender grower’s conference. “We went to the conference in Arizona, put in an order, and planted the first 500 plants, and we’ve added more each year,” Marrin explained. Coming full-circle, Marrin has recently been elected to the board of the association that holds that conference, the United States Lavender Grower’s Association.
The trickiest part of raising the perennial plants is getting the environment right. Marrin explained, “They’re like azaleas or hydrangeas; they’ll come back year after year. They’re tricky in that you have to get the environment right. They like a high pH, full sun, and well-drained soil. They don’t like a lot of rain, but of course we get a lot of rain, so we make sure they’re draining well.”
The Marrins are happy to call Lookout Mountain home. “We feel like Lookout Mountain is a stunning place, and there are so many treasures up here.”