When Steve Harlin and Lisa Coleman decided to grow lavender in the middle of corn and soybean farms north of Macomb, neighbors were curious. "When we first started, people thought we were growing pot," Steve says with a chuckle.
Allison Snow, owner of Farmhouse Harvest Lavender near Benton, faced even more reaction when she sought guidance from her local USDA office. "I went into the office, and they laughed at me, she said. "That's not going to work," officials told her.
Fortunately for those of us who long to relax in a field of purple or bring home a freshly picked bunch of the fragrant plant, several Illinois lavender growers have persisted. At least five offer the opportunity for a day trip to get fresh lavender or a variety of products.
Purple Prairie Lavender Farm, Good Hope
Coleman said she read an article about lavender fields in Washington state, a hotbed of lavender growing, and told Harlin, "It would make me happy to see purple rows" on their retirement farm. The couple started in 2012 with 24 plants as an experiment and a learning process.
Illinois has too much humidity and too cold winters for some varieties to survive, the two explained. Lavender generally likes hot and dry conditions, so they had to find which kinds would thrive in western Illinois. Today they have 2,000 plants that typically are at their peak in June and yield a second bloom in August.
The chance to see those blooms and buy lavender products draws hundreds on weekends. Visitors can expect to see mostly purple plants, but Harlin and Coleman also grow white "Melissa" lavender that has a peppery scent and culinary uses.
Coleman makes lavender soaps, lotions, linen sprays, bath bombs and candles and fills teddy bears and pain wraps with lavender and flaxseed. The bears help babies sleep, she says, adding other uses for lavender are to treat burns, help cancer patients relax and bring tranquility to people.
"We are very calm and we sleep well," Harlin says.
Check www.purpleprairielavenderfarm.com to see the full list of lavender products or Facebook for the farm's hours and bloom peaks.
Tenderloin Farms, Edwardsville
Sisters Kim Hansen and Kris Straub turned to growing lavender on their longtime family farm after their parents died, starting test plots in 2016 as a way to diversify the farm's harvest. Hansen says the two love growing plants, and a magazine article inspired them to try lavender.
Like Harlin and Coleman, the sisters experimented with which varieties could survive in their area. Lavender thrives in a Mediterranean-type climate, so growing it depends on "location, location, location," Hansen says, borrowing a real estate phrase. Tenderloin Farms currently has 15 varieties, but Hansen says she will continue to experiment with new varieties.
Scattered among different shades of purple are white and pink lavender and one variety that blooms purple but dries silver. A member of the mint family, lavender can enhance food, serve as an anti-inflammatory and promote sleep, experts say. Hansen likes to experiment with adding lavender to recipes, which she gladly shares.
The 1,000 plants are spread out over a couple of acres, mostly in old pastures. "Lavender is part of our farming operation," Hansen says. "We are in big corn country and still grow corn and soybeans, but we wanted to add something different."
She says blooming season starts with English lavender in late May, with peak blooms lasting until July 4. The farm has a U-pick patch of 380 plants and allows visitors to bring a picnic lunch and blanket to enjoy "a lavender experience." A shop in a renovated early 1900s barn has homemade lavender products for sale, and a greenhouse made with old stained-glass windows holds baby plants for sale.
In addition, the family grows wildflowers available on a U-pick basis and offers guided tours of the farm. Hours are 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June and a few fall weekends.
For more information, go to www.tenderloinfarms.com.
Farmhouse Harvest Lavender, Benton
Owner Allison Snow bought an 1899 farmhouse and 17 acres in southern Illinois in 2014 and began a lavender farm three years later. "It was just something I started researching and the more I learned, the more interested I got in all the uses of lavender."
She and her mother had owned a tearoom so Snow's food service background bolstered her interest in serving food enhanced with lavender. The farm offers a picnic tea lunch overlooking hundreds of lavender plants and flower gardens. A highlight is lavender ice cream, she says.
Visitors can meander through the fields, rent a pavilion for special events, participate in yoga on certain days or buy a multitude of lavender products. "Usually when people come here, they sit for hours," she notes, because they find it so relaxing.
She has found several varieties out of the 17 she originally planted do well with peak blooms the first two weeks of June. The farm opens in late May on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. No U-pick is available but Snow is propagating plants in a new greenhouse and plans to sell those plants as well as already-picked mature lavender.
To get directions and other information, go to www.farmhouseharvestlavender.com.
Lavender Falls U-Pick Farm,
Not far from Snow's operation is a new lavender farm outside Mt. Vernon. Kay and Richard Dorris started offering three varieties of fresh lavender and products to the public in 2021. They have 2,400 plants on one acre and open a U-pick operation in June and July, depending on the weather.
Kay said her husband has a degree in horticulture from SIU-C but runs a telecommunications company as a career. "Still his passion was always flowers and plants," she says, so he decided to plant lavender as a cash crop on their spread eight miles east of Mt. Vernon.
"It's been a lot of work but you can't beat the aroma. It is calming," Kay explains.
She and Richard distill their own lavender oil and have a small store on their property.
For directions and hours, go to the farm's Facebook page: lavenderfallsupickfarm.
Nettle Creek Lavender Farm, Morris
Maggie Smith makes the most of her lavender-growing operation, keeping it open almost all year and offering workshops, tours and summer yoga among the 1,200 lavender plants. Her four acres, 10 miles west of Morris, include 17 varieties.
Smith says she worked in retail but came from a family that liked gardening. Her mother-in-law had some books on lavender and Smith did further research. "That parlayed me into being fascinated with all of the different uses that lavender has."
English and hybrid lavenders do well in her climate with peak blooms around mid-June. Some varieties will rebloom until frost, she says. She offers U-pick by appointment and lavender and products from a farmstand open from Mother's Day weekend until October. Visitors are welcome to walk around.
Her weekend open houses/workshops run from February until December, and reserved evening farm tours are available once a month June through September.
For U-pick appointments, workshops or tours, go to www.nettlecreeklavenderfarm.com.
Mary Bohlen of Springfield writes about travel for ReGeneration and Illinois Times, specializing in day trips in Illinois. She is a former reporter for UPI and journalism professor at UIS and also loves a good garden.