Got lavender? Alice Morgan Marrin does at her Lookout Lavender Farm on Moore Road. Have some!
If you'd like to spend the afternoon approaching Lavender You'll feel just fine but one thing's sure You'll never be the same...
That’s from a Gordon Lightfoot song I am (just!) old enough to remember called “Approaching Lavender.” I thought it was apropos because lavender time is approaching fast. June is the best month for lavender tourism in Georgia because that’s when the lavender plants here burst into spectacular purple bloom.
Now, if it surprises you there is such a thing as lavender tourism, I take it you have never driven through the south of France in the summertime ogling field after field of purple flowers, each row ending in a rosebush as if to knock you dead with an overload of pretty, so that you simply ache to stop the car and roll in it.
And if it surprises you that lavender tourism has spread to Georgia, I take it you haven’t driven through the northeastern part of the state lately. With vineyards and wineries already big tourist draws there, lavender, another Mediterranean commodity, seemed the natural next step. There are now lavender farms open to the public in Cleveland and Dahlonega, Georgia.
Finally, if you didn’t know that lavender tourism is now a reality right here in Dade County, well! I’m here to tell you. Alice and Bill Marrin will officially open the doors of their Lookout Lavender Farm on Lookout Mountain for the first time on Saturday, June 16.
Alice and Bill Marrin with their dogs Josie (left) and KingZ, among the lavender rows.
The Marrins will sell lavender products at their farm store as well as host a “U-pick” operation. Like other lavender farmers, they are considering eventually marketing their place as a wedding venue, but they’re not quite ready for that yet though they are advertising it as a photo shoot site. Meanwhile, they’re eager to show the place off, and they invite interested parties to come pick a lavender bouquet. They provide shears and ribbons, and the cost is a few dollars per posy.
The Marrins—Bill’s a business consultant, Alice a school librarian—come from Sandy Springs in the Atlanta area, and they’d been searching for a country retreat for some
time when Alice found the old McGuffey farm one night when, unable to sleep, she was sifting through real estate ads online. They both fell in love with the 40-acre spread on North Moore Road, bought it in spring 2016 and were just finishing up renovating the old farmhouse there when The Dade Planet Girls’ Road Trip Brigade invaded in September 2017.
That visit is where most of these photos are from. Alice had contacted The Planet to see if Planet garden columnist Ann Bartlett (left, with shades) would like to do an article on the interesting datum that Dade was about to have its first lavender farm. Ann would, but The Planet’s editor, your narrator (not pictured; felt outclassed because didn't have hat), was also curious; and so was Christine Bock Hunt (right), the Tennessee Aquarium horticulturalist who had introduced the former to the latter. Thus a Ladies’ Adventure was arranged, beginning in a meet-up in the Ingle’s parking lot and culminating in lunch at The Artzy Café. A grand time was had by all!
The Marrins showed us their operation. They were starting with a few varieties of lavender used for different purposes: As well as two culinary cultivars, they were trying Grosso, a dependable lavender for producing the oil from which soaps and perfumes are made, and Phenomenal, a new, patented lavender that stands up better to the weather in these parts than older types.
A word on that: The problem with growing lavender in Georgia, explained Alice, is that it's a Mediterranean plant that likes warm, dry conditions, as opposed to warm, wet ones, which is what we've got here (except this year, when it kept dropping below zero up on the mountain, making for a long, nail-biting winter for the Marrins) and light sandy soils, when what we specialize in up here is heavy red clay.
But the Marrins, who had thrown themselves into the science of lavender with visits to the northeast Georgia farms and workshops at the U.S. Lavender Conference, were not so easily daunted. They had learned to counter the soil and humidity problems by mounding up their lavender rows into long, groundcloth-covered raised beds. They mixed the soil under the groundcloth with liberal doses of limestone gravel and vermiculite (as shown by Alice at left). It's a lot of trouble up front, but the groundcloth keeps out weeds and the backfilled raised beds keep the lavender roots from getting soggy, while the soil amendments in there correct the native pH, or acidity level.
The Marrins planted last spring, held their breath through the abnormally rainy summer, then gritted their teeth through the abnormally frigid winter (where's global warming when you need it?). This month will tell the tale of how well the whole grand experiment has worked. Everything's been a little late this spring, says Alice, but the plants are healthy and flower spikes are forming. She thinks everything is right on target for a splendid show of purple by the 16th.
Lookout Lavender Farm's open hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays, beginning the 16th and running through the end of the month. The Marrins will take the July 4 weekend off, then continue opening as long as the lavender and blueberries--they'll U-pick those, too--hold out.
Besides fresh lavender and the bloobs, you can also buy an extensive line of lavender toiletries at Lookout Lavender. The farm offers essential oils, soaps, bath salts, candles, facial toners and beard oil (so as not to leave out those of the male persuasion). There is also a spray for your bed linens. Lavender has been used for such purposes since ancient times. The word "lavender" comes from the Latin word for washing--"lavatory" and "laundry" come from the same root. And did I mention lavender is also used in cooking? You may have noticed that the foliage looks like rosemary.
If you'd like to visit Lookout Lavender Farm for your own Ladies' Day Out, Family Adventure or Unusual Date venue, The Dade Planet Girls’ Road Trip Brigade can recommend it heartily. The address is 1039 North Moore Road, Rising Fawn;
the phone number is (706) 993-1145; and the website is lookoutlavender.com. You can also "like" its Facebook page to receive periodic updates. Here's a link:
One final recommendation: The Planet has found it extremely agreeable on botanical ventures of this kind to travel with a horticulturalist (see Christine at left pontificating on the difference between ragweed and goldenrod) and a master gardener (click
Ann's picture at right to read her more correct and scholarly article about the Lookout Lavender Farm operation, right here in The Planet).
But if you can't find anybody like that to approach lavender with you, I am sure you will enjoy your outing anyway. Maybe you could take somebody who will spring for lunch.
--Robin Ford Wallace