Lavender passion in Victoria

Recommendations from a lavender farmer
Lauren Bonar Swezey

Lynda Dowling's love of lavender began 12 years ago when an elderly friend brought her an old, woody 'Munstead' lavender plant she'd just dug up because she was moving to a condominium. Her friend "believed in my vision to farm my grandmother's land, which has been in the family since 1910," says Dowling.

Bucking all recommended gardening advice for her climate in January, Dowling clipped the old plant into 500 cuttings and stuck the cuttings into a coldframe. "Fortunately, it was a mild winter and they all survived," she says.

Three years later, the plants had matured and were blooming profusely. Suddenly, Dowling had bundles of lavender on her hands. "That's when I went gung ho," she says. She approached nearby Butchart Gardens to find out who supplied the lavender for their sachets. "I told them I could do better, and they said, 'The contract is yours if you can give it to us for the same price.'" Now she supplies Butchart Gardens with 45 pounds of lavender per year.

Friends brought Dowling seeds from all over the world, including France, England, and Tasmania. Today her fields are striped with 1,200 lavender plants in multiple colors. Florists and chefs flock to her farm for her hand-harvested organically grown lavender.

Lavender has become the signature plant of Dowling's farm. It has also inspired her to create recipes using the fresh herb.

"In aromatherapy, lavender is used for harmony and balance," says Dowling. "It keeps me sane."

Dowling's favorite plants
L. angustifolia 'Hidcote'.
"The intense purple flowers color jellies, lemonade, and vinegars beautifully." Grows 1 to 2 feet tall.

Spike lavender (L. latifolia). "It's a great big tall bush ― very endearing." Grows 3 feet tall. Violet flowers.

Info: Happy Valley Herbs, 3505 Happy Valley Rd., Victoria, B.C. V9C 2Y2; (250) 474-5767. Open 10-5 during lavender season, July 1-15. August-December, farm tours, lectures, and workshops are offered by reservation, and dried lavender is available by mail.

Lynda Dowling's Lavender Lemonade

Prep and cook time: 45 minutes

Notes: 'Hidcote' lavender turns lemonade rosy pink. Other varieties turn it a paler color. Avoid piney-smelling lavenders, such as spike.

Makes: 6 cups; about 6 servings

1 cup sugar

¼ cup (a generous handful) fresh or 1 tablespoon dried lavender blooms stripped from stems

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained

Ice cubes

Lavender sprigs for garnish

1. Combine sugar with 2½ cups water in a medium pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

2. Add the lavender blooms to the sugar water, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand at least 20 minutes (and up to several hours).

3. Strain mixture and discard lavender. Pour infusion into a glass pitcher. Add lemon juice and another 2½ cups water. Stir well and watch lemonade change color.

4. Pour into tall glasses half-filled with ice or refrigerate until ready to use. Garnish lemonade with fresh lavender sprigs.

Per serving: 139 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0.2 g protein; 0 g fat; 37 g carbo (0.2 g fiber); 0.7 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.