Why Lavender Fans are Flocking to Shawnee Hills Lavender (VIDEO)
Lavender is used to flavor foods and beverages, can be found in a myriad of cosmetics, soaps and perfumes, and is reported to help alleviate anxiety and sleep disturbances. With all these uses, it’s no wonder the fragrant herb has so many fans, according to Cobden-area grower Charlotte Clover. She had no idea how many people loved lavender until she and her husband, Doug, started Shawnee Hills Lavender.
Reading a magazine article on lavender farms in the Midwest, Charlotte noticed none of the farms listed were located in Illinois.
“That piqued my curiosity, and after doing research, we found there weren’t many lavender farms at all in Illinois,” she says. The Clovers’ property, in Charlotte’s family since 1820, lies along the popular Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, which brings thousands of people to southern Illinois each year.
“We felt a lavender farm could be a real agritourism opportunity because nobody else was doing it,” Charlotte says. So, in 2014, Doug set their first plants.
Native to the Old World, lavender plants don’t do well in clay soils or high humidity. Southern Illinois has both. Doug has amended their soil with lime, cow manure and peat moss. Adding gravel to the soil helps with drainage – lavender doesn’t like wet roots, either – and the Clover property’s rolling hills help somewhat as well.
They can’t amend high humidity, however, so Doug sets their plants farther apart than growers in other parts of the U.S. Planting rows 6 feet apart and placing the plants 6 feet from one another allows air to flow around each plant, Doug explains, helping offset the humidity.
The Clovers’ 900 lavender plants include nine varieties. The most prevalent – “Grosso” – is a hardy hybrid with a high oil content and often used to make essential oils.
“To our knowledge, it’s the most fragrant of any lavender grown,” Charlotte says.
Another favorite is “Royal Velvet,” a short-stemmed, deep purple beauty. Doug grows a culinary variety of “Royal Velvet” the Clovers use in making a simple syrup for their lavender lemonade. Last year, they sold 96 gallons of the drink during the three U-pick weekends when they opened the farm to visitors.
Choosing the dates for those weekends is the hardest part of their entire business, Charlotte says. Oftentimes, they don’t know until the middle of May when the plants will be in full bloom for the U-pick weekends, which typically fall in June. Visitors should check Shawnee Hills Lavender’s Facebook page for the most up-to-date information on dates.
During those weekends, visitors who want to pick are given a box, cutters, a twist tie and instructions on how to select and snip the stems. Pickers are encouraged to visit each row of lavender; whatever they can fit in the twist tie is theirs for $5 per bundle. A gift shop, open only during U-pick weekends, offers lavender-related lotions, soaps, home décor and other items. The Clovers also blend bulk teas with their lavender, selling these hand-blended teas at the gift shop, in local stores and online. The lavender lemonade recipe is available, too. And if you want to try your hand as a grower, Doug will share his knowledge of how and when to set the plants you can purchase at Shawnee Hills Lavender.
The business has grown to the point where Doug has retired from his full-time job to focus on the pruning, replanting and other chores necessary to keep Shawnee Hills – and the lavender – growing and thriving. Charlotte continues her full-time job as a COUNTRY Financial agent. On U-pick weekends, they recruit 14 family members to help handle the crowds, with about 1,600 people attending during three weekends in 2018.
Welcoming those folks to their farm has been Charlotte’s greatest reward as a lavender grower.
“People truly appreciate us sharing our farm with them,” she says. “A lot of people bring their families, pack a lunch and spend the day. We really did not realize when we started that there was so much interest and enthusiasm for lavender.”
If You Go...
Shawnee Hills Lavender
Location: 480 Brown Section Rd. in Cobden
Hours: U-Pick weekends in June were not finalized as of publication, but they typically open for three consecutive weekends, Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check facebook.com/shawneelavender for up-to-date information.
Phone: (618) 534-4659