Allison Horseman lives on a Pulaski County farm that has been in her family since 1928. It’s where her mother, Mary May, grew up, and where Horseman was raised.
The mother and daughter have searched for a way to honor the family’s farming heritage and use the land they both love.
Horseman considered several possibilities: raising goats and making goat cheese, tending chickens and selling eggs, starting a pumpkin farm.
Her father, Jim May, provided a reality check. Any of those ventures, he said, would mean long hours and hard work. May farms several hundred acres in Pulaski and Lincoln counties, raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa and beef cattle.
Horseman, 37, doesn’t have a lot of time. She and her husband, Kelly, have two children, ages 7 and 3. She works part-time in the public relations department of Somerset Community College; he has an insurance agency in Somerset.
The idea of raising lavender came from a cookbook that Mary May read, featuring two women with a few acres of land who grew lavender. She gives her daughter credit for seeing the possibility of doing that on their farm.
“She decided, really, as a spur-of-the-moment thing,” said May, a retired educator with the Lincoln County school system.
They researched lavender and visited the Brothers’ family, owners of Lavender Hills of Kentucky in Bracken County. “We decided to give it a try,” Horseman said.
In 2013, they planted 50 plants “to see what would happen,” she said. Today, they grow 250 plants on less than an acre. “We’ve learned a lot about lavender.”
Their plot isn’t like a lavender field in Provence, France, but each plant is large, is covered with purple blooms and makes quite a show when you look down the rows.
They grow varieties of Grosso and Munstead lavender. Grosso is hearty lavender, with long stems good for cutting and suitable for Kentucky’s climate. Munstead is culinary lavender and has shorter stems.
The reason many people fail when trying to grow lavender is that “they plant it in dirt, and water it,” May said. Lavender likes poor, even gravelly, soil, little water, good drainage and full sun. “You water it enough to get it established, then leave it alone,” she said.
Before planting, soil in the beds was amended with lime to increase the alkalinity, and gravel was worked in. Landscape cloth was laid between the rows to suppress weeds, and each bed was thoroughly mulched with more white gravel.
The main disease they’ve had to contend with was, early on, when most of one row of plants was killed by Phytophothora, or root rot, a soil-borne pathogen exacerbated by wet soil. The row where the infected plants grew has been left empty, Horseman said, because once root rot is in the ground, it’s difficult to eradicate.
Horseman and May want to expand their business, but slowly. “We’re taking it step by step, keeping it fun and manageable for two people,” Horseman said.
She doesn’t anticipate increasing lavender production significantly. “We might expand into growing other herbs,” she said.
The Lavender Farm at Woodstock is a working farm, not designed to be open to the public. Groups can call to arrange to visit, and to have small events there. Plein Air Artists of Central Kentucky recently spent an afternoon painting at the farm.
Horseman and May make a line of lavender-products including lip balm, bath salts, linen spray, sachet and household cleaner. The products are sold in Central Kentucky including at Pink Mustard Seed in Liberty, the Artisan Center in Berea, Windy Corner Market in Lexington, and Expressions Tea and Gifts in Somerset.
On June 3, the farm will host a tea and a dinner, with all dishes, sweet and savory, prepared using lavender. Preparing the food will be Mete Sergin, chef at Expressions Tea and Gifts in Somerset and general manager of the kitchen at Blue Grass Oakwood, an intermediate care center for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The tea is sold out. Dinner tickets are $45 each; you can buy them on the farm’s website, Kylavender.com.
Beverly Fortune is a former Herald-Leader reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
What: Dinner at The Lavender Farm at Woodstock. Guests may each cut a small amount of fresh lavender to take home.
Where: 13394 Ky. 39, Woodstock
When: 6 p.m. June 3
Tickets: Available at Kylavender.com