Purple power

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Deerhaven Herb & Flower Farm prepares for lavender harvest

Turning onto Bonny Doon Road from Highway 1 north of Santa Cruz, one can expect a number of different sights and smells. Wildflowers flank the paved road at first, pushing out onto the pavement persistently. Then there are damp, cool redwood groves. After a quick jog onto Martin Road, a wide expanse of meadow is revealed.

Deerhaven Herb and Flower Farm is located on the 10-acre meadow. Surrounded by the forest of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, a nature preserve which protects various rare plant and animals species, the farm is an ideal place to grow the popular herb.

“We have our own microclimate right here,” said Deerhaven owner Mary Jessen. “It is perfect for lavender. The sandy soil, all the direct sunlight — herbs love it.”

Mary and her husband David bought the farm from The Nature Conservancy in 1992. They had been tenants on the property since 1981 and saw an opportunity to revive the estate.

The farm itself has been many things in the past. An old firehouse is located on the farm, now used as a home for Jessen’s daughter and her family. It was once a Christmas Tree farm, a turkey ranch, a fruit orchard, and even a bootleg vineyard during Prohibition.

“This place definitely has a colorful history,” David said, laughing. “It just continues to evolve.”

On June 11, 2008, Deerhaven was almost completely destroyed by the Martin Wildfire, which ended up burning more than 500 acres of land. A number of structures at Deerhaven were lost, including Mary’s soap shop. Today, burnt trees still line the property.

But the Jessens were able to use the event to their advantage. They realized that with all the areas the fire had cleared away, they could now plant and grow twice as many lavender plants.

“It was almost a blessing in disguise,” Mary said. “Since the fire, lavender has become our main draw.”

The Jessens see lavender as a niche market. It is something unique but popular that they could also enjoy growing. The plant is also one that gophers and deer, both common to the estate, don’t go after. Mary said it’s nice, for once, to be able to coexist with the deer instead of worrying about them eating her roses.

For the most part, Deerhaven grows two varietals of the lavender: Grosso and Violet Intrigue. The lavender, which is 100 percent organic, not only gets sold in bunches but also used in Mary’s essential oils and soaps. She has a workshop right on the property where she and David craft the items by hand.

“My favorite thing about this business is the manufacturing, the creation process,” she said.

The Jessens hope to open to the public for a brief time early in the summer for the harvest. It’s been a challenge picking an exact date, however, after such a wet winter.

“That’s the only thing lavender doesn’t thrive in,” David explained. “We had about 100 inches of rain this winter season, and so much wind. We lost a lot of plants, and our Grosso varietals have taken longer to bloom.”

But the Jessens are positive the summer’s harvest will be successful. Plans for a public U-Pick at Deerhaven, including lessons on how to self-dry lavender and kids activities are in the works.

They have even opened up one of the new houses, which replaced one destroyed by the fire, to AirBnB travelers.

“We are so thankful to be here, doing what we love,” Mary said. “Of course we want to share it with people.”

To learn more about lavender and information on Deerhaven Herb & Flower Farm, visit deerhavenlavender.com.