Hello! My name is Kadin Bertucci, a Sustainability Intern at the Valle Crucis Lavender House. I am a 21-year-old rising Senior at Appalachian State University, and I'll spend the summer of 2023 learning about permaculture, ecosystem services, and local ecology. This is my first blog to share some of what I've learned so far. In this blog, I'll cover the topics of balance in your garden, the importance of plant identification, and why the Lavender House practices no-till farming. If these topics sound interesting to you, keep reading!
1. Striking Balance Between Tamed and Untamed Nature
I have found that there are many beautiful things in this world. Untouched woodlands thriving with life, large cities full of man-made wonders, and hiking trails that allow us a glimpse of nature are just a few of my favorite things. Of this small list, hiking trails are best able to represent balance. Nature is allotted her domain to exist relatively untouched while we humans claim a small three-foot wide path to view her from all angles. I am learning about this balance at the Lavender House in order to use and preserve the integrity of the land. I hope these tips I have learned will allow you to work with the natural beauty of your land, too.
In order to lessen the burden of weekly yard work, one might consider allowing sections of their yard to be reclaimed by mother nature. When we allow nature to function without human interference, beauty truly begins to emerge. Native grasses and plants can be allowed to prosper and flower. This prompts bees and insects to take refuge as well as birds to keep their populations in check. Say you decide to let small sections of your yard be reclaimed by nature. A few weeks go by and you'll be able to witness the circle of life within your own backyard!
Don’t believe me? Come visit the Lavender House and behold our beautiful waterways lined with natural grasses and flowers. They help perform ecosystem services like cleansing our groundwater and improving soil quality. To allow chaos into your yard may seem like a scary thought, but a tame yard with no native species of plants or animals is much more scary. Chaos is the Law of nature. Order is the dream of man.
2. Plant Identification
Being able to identify the plants growing in your garden will allow you to find uses for them beyond being nuisances that seem to exist solely to make your back hurt. The term ‘weed’ is a label that we often slap on anything and everything that grows where we do not want it to.
Jewelweed, for example, is a beautiful plant that neutralizes the oils of poison ivy. By allowing nature to take over sections of your yard, you might be lucky enough to have Jewelweed appear.
Yellow Dock is also a large leaf plant that can quickly begin to take up space in your garden. Rather than pulling it as a juvenile, you should consider waiting until just before it goes to seed to chop and drop it. Yes, I said chop and drop. This is when you keep the biomass of the plant on the surface of your soil so that as it decomposes to add nutrients directly to your soil. You also get the added benefit of aerated soil as Yellow dock sends deep taproots out in search for water and nutrients. Less work for you and your plants! Everything has a purpose in nature, and to simply label your problems as a back-breaking weed is a little unfair.
To further my limited knowledge of natural ecology, I have begun drawing planets in order to observe their unique qualities. This allows me to quickly identify plants when my knees are in the dirt and my hands are pulling weeds. I am reluctantly sharing my first attempt at a detailed plant drawing below to hopefully motivate you to give it a shot as well!
3. No-till Farming
No-till farming is exactly what it sounds like, but It is a practice that is seldom used in modern farming. I had never witnessed no-till farming until I arrived at the Lavender House. One is able to view this type of farming in the Lavender House’s raised garden beds, raised lavender beds, as well as in the lavender swales and Sunset Garden. This style of soil preservation allows for quality aeration making it easier for plant roots to reach deep into the soil. Another important aspect of no-till farming is the abundant biosphere that is preserved from season to season. When I spend time weeding in our raised beds I often find roly polys, worms, spiders, and many other creatures whose names I do not yet know. They have found a happy home in these raised beds where they help to maintain soil quality and pest control. To till would be to destroy these lovely little dirt dweller’s hard work and homes!
This is but a fraction of what I have learned at the Lavender House and I can’t wait to share more with you. If you found these topics interesting, keep coming back so we can learn together!
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.
Lotion bars are like lip balm for your body. As you massage the bar against your skin, your body heat warms the surface, melting just enough to coat your skin. Lotion bars contain the same moisturizers as your favorite natural lotion, but without the water there's no need for preservatives.
We haven't shared this popular recipe before, even in workshops, but we know some of you are bored, your hands are dry from constant washing, and this is an easy one provided you have some kind of oil, beeswax, and access to a kitchen. Send us a picture when you've finished, or tag us on social media if you try this recipe.
Lotion Bar Recipe
Makes about 10 bars
1. Measure coconut oil, beeswax, and butter into a double boiler. (If you don't have a double boiler, you can use a regular pot, but be careful not to burn your wax and oil mixture.)
2. Stir and melt until the mixture is fully liquid.
3. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple minutes.
4. Add your favorite essential oils to taste.
5. Line your mold as needed and pour mixture carefully into the mold.
6. Sprinkle some of your favorite dried herbs on top.
7. Allow to cool completely before removing from mold. Bars will be opaque and firm to the touch.
8. Tip: beeswax can make for messy cleanup. Wipe out your pot and spoon thoroughly with paper towels while the wax is still hot to avoid damaging your dishwasher or sink.
*If you don't have beeswax on-hand, do you have an old candle you can melt down?
**If you don't have shea butter or something similar, consider trying a smaller amount of another type of oil like olive or sesame. Worst-case-scenario your bars may not solidify as much as ours, and may have more of a salve-like texture. If this happens, scoop them into a jar for storage and enjoy!