When the Lavender House was born in 2016, we started from scratch with the land, gradually turning a large uniform lawn into a beautiful and inviting garden, with raised beds and swales for the lavender, and beds of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. This year we're taking it much further.
This has always been a collaborative business. I moved to Boone from Chicago almost six years ago with my gardening experience limited to a few tomato plants and indoor herbs. I remember once weeding dandelions somewhere as a kid. While I could maintain the business books, there was no way I was going to be able to do any other part of it alone.
Looking back at the past four years, I am amazed at the more than a dozen young ambitious and creative women who have spent their summers working here. All have been unique and wonderful, and due to the nature of a seasonal business, almost all have moved on to do bigger and better things. Despite the turnover there has been a continuous shared vision of a world in which we are friends with plants, know how to care for them and use them to care for ourselves.
Some years were harder for me than others. Particularly the first year when absolutely nothing went the way I had planned, and the second year when we continued to struggle financially. When employees approached me with ideas for garden projects, I discouraged them. “Too expensive,” or, “I don’t see how that will bring in more revenue.” In my mind all we needed to do was create a beautiful and fragrant environment to lure in more customers. Beyond that, I didn’t see the point, and I worried that we didn’t have the infrastructure to maintain something more complex. It was hard enough just keeping up with regular weeding and harvesting.
This spring my perspective has shifted. One more beloved Lavender Lady asked about the possibility of using some of our extra time to create more regenerative garden systems on our small plot of land, and I felt the scales tip in that direction. Finally. “Create complex new landscapes that will feed us and heal the land? Yes!” Where before our biggest limitation was time, that is no longer the case. Where before, long-term projects that wouldn’t look pretty to the public might be bad for business, now the public is (mostly) at home tending their own gardens.
It felt like coming full circle when we sat down on zoom to review some of the early drafts of the Lavender House landscape design, and to add in berry bushes, and fruit trees, and special mounds of logs and manure that will create safe little microclimates for certain plants to thrive. I can’t make any promises, but you might look forward to some future sharing of deep thoughts about pruning, or the fancy raised beds we’re building in the kitchen garden, or mushroom cultivation, or how excessive screen time is easily replaced by watching the antics of ducklings. In the meantime, I can’t tell you exactly what gives me the feeling that the willow trees are smiling.
One of the things that draws me to Valle Crucis is that time really does seem to stand still. I am not the only person to have noticed this. This place is a constant reminder to slow down, so it’s fitting that I am in no hurry to reopen to the public.
Last year my big lesson from the Lavender House was that the new primary purpose of the business was to provide meaningful livelihood to my employees. Whatever we happen to be doing, or however much extra money we may or may not be making is secondary.
As the pandemic unfolded around us a couple of months ago, I realized that with my teaching work still occupying so much of my time, I felt a deep (if temporary and anxiety-inducing) sense of purpose and responsibility. It got me out of bed most mornings and kept me engaged throughout the day. Friends who did not have virtual or “essential” work had to figure out how to create a new sense of meaning and purpose from scratch.
We gathered at the Lavender House for routine spring garden care that would need to happen no matter what the future held. The first day of yard work was a dream come true. Working together gave us an excuse to be together - though at a safe distance, and being outside in the spring felt intoxicating: the annual miracle of being barefoot on the earth.
That day I realized another big purpose of business - to function as a hub that a group of people can gather around. If this were just my house and I said to my friends, “Come help me in the garden and I’ll feed you!” there would have been no sense of collective ownership, or investment in the outcome. They would have been helping me with my garden, and no matter how much we enjoyed the process and how generous I was with extra tomatoes and greens down the line, I would have been the primary beneficiary of that help. Because the Lavender House is a business, we all have the opportunity to give and receive more equitably.
I don’t know when we will reopen. When we do, I want it to feel safe enough to throw the doors open wide and welcome you back with open arms. For now, we’ll still be here making sweet self-care products (available online or on our local online Food Hub), and reshaping this land into the latest and best new iteration of itself.
I’m starting to wonder if maybe this is why the Lavender House was created in the first place - so that we’d have somewhere to turn when the world changed, and that the particular “somewhere” could not just be a source of meaning and purpose, but of food and medicine and deeper self-love as well.