The following article is reprinted from Canadian Gardening.
The red earth of Prince Edward Island is becoming tinged with lavender - the fragrant herb, that is. While potatoes are the traditional commercial crop, five sisters are hoping to add more diversity to the Island's harvest.
The Cook sisters - Mary , mother of three and a retired legal secretary; Dottie , mother of five and an artist; Reta , mother of three and a bank manager retiree' Anita , mother of four, an artist and collectibles dealer; Carol , mother of four and a clinical social worker-grew up in the US, but their parents were from Prince Edward Island, and the family visited the Island each year.
Starting the Five Sisters of Lavender Lane operation in their 60's was not initially on the agenda, but caring for their land (in the community of Kelly's Cross) definitely was. "Our land had been abused over time, and we were looking to correct it", says Carol. "We decided to do something that would add to the soil and possibly to the beauty and economy of PEI."
And so the idea of growing lavender was born. It is something that Carol is passionate about. "It is such a special plant; every bit of it is used. It is a perennial that requires no fertilizer or herbicides. There are countless uses for it in decorating and cooking, and now is being looked at as a treatment for cancer and dementia. What is there not to love about this plant?" she says.
In 2001, the sisters decided to experiment with 100 plants on their Zone 5b property, first testing the soil, then improving it by adding lime and seaweed. The next year they added another 500 plants, using English lavender (Lanandula angustifolia), as it's the hardiest. The two main varieties they grow are Hidcote and Munstead.(They have tried L.x intermedial 'Grosso' but found that it doesn't cope as well with PEI winters) A lot of time is spent weeding their 'babies', as Carol refers to them, and covering the lavender with fir boughs to help them over winter successfully. The lavender grew so well that, in 2003, they invited their neighbors over to enjoy lavender tea and pound cake topped with lavender whipped cream to celebrate.
The sisters held their first annual Lavender Festival in 2004. On a cold, rainy day in early October, they opened their farm to visitors. "We stopped counting at 300", says Anita. A few farmers who were interested in the project also attended, curious to learn about the crop. In addition to growing lavender, the Cook sisters produce a limited number of lavender-based products for sale, including neck pillows and candles. In the future, they plan to distill lavender and sell it as oil and lavender water. They hope to sell fresh lavender to local craftspeople.