By Vicki Spencer, Master Gardener
The first time I attended the Denver Botanic Gardens Lavender Festival at Chatfield Farms, I was amazed. As a volunteer at the well-established Denver Botanic Gardens, I was interested in seeing the development of an historic farm with quaint buildings and newly added gardens. My lavender-loving sister lives near the farm in Littleton and was excited to join me at the festival.
Since we both have a habit of arriving early, I picked her up one hour before opening. To our surprise, just 10 minutes from her house, traffic into the farm was already backed up a mile in both directions as people waited patiently to enter the festival site. Apparently, we were not the only lavender lovers on the Front Range.
That year, the singular lavender patch didn’t fulfill my expectations — I anticipated being awe-struck by long, luscious rows of lavender like those pictured in Provence, France. Nonetheless, the lavender was lovely, and we were delighted by the other cultivated gardens, live music, family-friendly activities and welcoming vendors. With passion for lavender exploding all around us, we engaged horticulturists and vendors in conversations and could not resist walking away with armloads of lavender bouquets, vinegars, soaps, lotions and essential oils. The festival’s popularity continues to grow and now visitors can enjoy two species and nearly 15 lavender plant varieties ranging from white to deep purple.
On the other side of the Continental Divide, lavender aficionados can enjoy the Festival in the Park, sponsored by the Lavender Association of Colorado. Each year, growers and enthusiasts gather “to learn and experience all things lavender.” The association is also currently planning its 14th Annual Lavender & Artisan Christmas Festival, scheduled for December 2 in Grand Junction.
Today, lavender cultivation is no longer restricted to lower elevations in the western and eastern parts of Colorado. It is grown in the mountains as well. Just as I discovered in my Gunnison garden, the owners of Colorado Mountain Lavender in Cotopaxi found that lavender grows well at higher altitudes. The lavender in my garden, which didn’t receive any special treatment and was buried year after year under several feet of snow for months at a time, has continued to thrive.
Perhaps my sheltered backyard and Gunnison’s snow cover provided some insulation from sub-zero winter temperatures, but growing plants on a commercial basis is a different game. Colorado Mountain Lavender covers their plants with “a sea of frost blankets” that offer heat and moisture retention during dry spells. More importantly, the covers provide additional protection by keeping plants dormant during springtime temperature swings.
Colorado Mountain Lavender’s research suggests an additional benefit of high-altitude lavender cultivation: it claims to have achieved greater floral notes in its essential oils. The owners encourage visitors to judge for themselves by participating in self-guided tours at the farm and testing the products for sale in the gift shop. You can buy culinary delights such as honey, syrup and balsamic vinegar as well as health and beauty supplies, including soaps, bath salts, lotions and essential oils. Colorado Mountain Lavender is open through October 1. Find the schedule and shop year-round at coloradomountainlavender.com.
Master Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.
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