• Deb Whittaker

Lavender is Big Business in Colorado

By Deb Whittaker, Herb Gourmet:

Kate Keany & Dr Curtis Swift of Mesa Lavender Farms in Grand Junction.  (mesalavenderfarms.com)
Kate Keany & Dr Curtis Swift of Mesa Lavender Farms in Grand Junction. (mesalavenderfarms.com)

Colorado's venture into the lavender industry is a resounding testament to what can be accomplished when a few people collaborate on promoting one great idea. It all started when xeric landscape designer Kathy Kimbrough asked former extension agent Dr. Curtis Swift, why there wasn't more lavender being grown on the western slope. She knew it was being grown as a cash crop in other areas of the country and believed Colorado fit the needs of the highly aromatic plant that thrives in hot, dry climates at high altitudes.


Swift encouraged Kimbrough to attend the Sequim Lavender Festival in Washington state where she verified the unique combination of Colorado growing conditions were not only suitable but actually preferable to those found in some of the major lavender-growing areas of the world. With the help of CSU extension, she and Swift, who has gone on to establish Mesa Lavender Farms, put an ad in the local Sentinel newspaper inviting anyone interested in growing lavender to attend. The response was overwhelming. An estimated 50 people showed up with a wide range of lavender-based hobbies and businesses.


There were farmers looking to diversify their crops, herbalists wanting to procure the highest quality essential oils, and crafters interested in getting a better harvest, among others. It seems every type of business that features anything lavender was represented. The group started getting together on a regular basis and the Lavender Association of Western Colorado was born in 2009. The LAC provided a framework to clarify common goals of research and education for both the members and the general public. The group was interested in research-based information and received a grant from the USDA and the state of Colorado to do it.


Initially, the Western Slope was the hub of lavender agriculture in Colorado. The warm air wafting down the Canyon in Palisade offers prime growing conditions for Palisade fruit, which makes it also ideal for lavender. Ultimately the organization dropped the “Western” designation and welcomed members on the Front Range where lavender businesses are also flourishing. The Front Range, which has an equivalent number of LAC members, has a climate benefit of its own: almost twice the rainfall of the western slope. “We're all about education and collaboration,” says Cindy Jones, owner of Colorado Aromatics in Longmont.

A Colorado Success Story

Colorado's success in the lavender business has as much to do with the individual businesses as it does with the climate. The research done with the grant money allowed them to discover what plants would do best here and determine how to process the best oils.


At high altitude, the UV rays that stress the plants into production force them to render higher quality oils, which enabled Bob Korver of Green Acres U-pick in Palisade to take first place in the Grosso category at the international competition in Australia last year. Contestants from around the globe participated, including those from major lavender hubs of France and New Zealand. Korver entered the competition because he wanted to know the exact chemical composition of his Grosso oil, and a gas chromatograph profile was performed there. The profile allows producers to measure the quality of specific chemical components, like the specific two that provide the oils' ability to promote relaxation. Not all lavender oils are relaxing.


Other Colorado growers are recognized on a national scale. Grower Paola Legarre of Sage Creations, who started growing lavender in Palisade in 2005, ships more than three dozen varieties of highly regarded, tested plants and plugs on a wholesale and retail scale across the US.

Dozens of lavender-related businesses in the state sell everything from landscape design to home products; lavender infused CBD to confections; medicinal products to art. The healing benefits of lavender seem to go with everything. The listing of all the members of the Association shows that everyone seems to do something different. There are honey, soaps, dried buds for culinary use, wine, even a cookbook. You can even find descriptions of the culinary nuances of six different lavenders at https://www.nielsenvillage.com/product.

A Cornucopia of Color, Size and Scent

One of the biggest benefits of having a booming lavender business in our state is the availability of acclimated, local plants. We are in luck here in zone 5 Colorado where perennial lavender can be found in a surprising array of colors, heights and growth habits. There are pinks, purples, blues and white flowers with foliage ranging from silver to dark green. There are plants ranging from short, compact 12” plants to spreading varieties with stems up to 30” tall.


By choosing the right varieties of plants with differing bloom times you can have lavender buds and flowers in your garden from June through frost. Note though: lavender is perennial, but not all varieties are perennial in your location. Denver is zone 5 but different areas of Colorado range from zones 7 to 2 in the coldest part of the mountains. Find an approximation of your zone at

plantmaps.com/interactive-colorado-usda-plant-zone-hardiness-map.php


A couple of other tips will help keep your lavender thriving for years. Choose a fast-draining spot away from the sprinkler, but water regularly for 2 years. Xeric plants need to be watered to establish roots before they can withstand drier conditions, but overwatering produces shallow roots, which need more water. Harvest stems and buds before the flowers open for craft and culinary use. If you prefer to leave the flowers to open, deadhead and prune the old stems after the flowers have died back to encourage growth, and don't forget to winter water both new and established plants.


If you're looking for a beautiful, fragrant, bullet-proof lavender for your garden, just about any hardy lavender will present you with years of fragrant beauty, but here in Colorado we have more choice. Buena Vista is a favorite for both fragrance and culinary use, but Grosso is used for oils. Sage Creations gives specifics for each variety on their order form at sagecreationsfarm.com. With the surge in interest in the unique culinary aspects and alternative medicinal benefits of herbs and spices, less-common varieties are in high demand, so order early!

Embracing Lavender – 2022 Events:


Colorado Lavender Festival, Palisade, June 24 – 26 $5 Admission includes three different farm tours, educational seminars, speakers, cooking & other demos, vendors, crafters, artisans. $25 materials fee for wreath class only. Pre-order suggested.

Lavender Festival, Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, July 16 -17 $13 Admission includes farm tour, demo in the dye garden, vendors, food, live music. Educational programs available for an add’l charge. Pre-registration required.

• Annual Artisan Christmas Fair, Grand Junction, Dec. 2022. Classes & demos; displays & staffed info table; lavender-based health, beauty, culinary products.

Ongoing Events

• Lavender Association of Colorado website lists individual members whose sites may include farm tours, festivals, classes, a newsletter, and year-round retail outlets. https://coloradolavender.org/membership-services/

• Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield lavender demonstration garden has 29 varieties of lavender in a 2000 plant garden. Fee for admission.

• FB page for the Lavender Association of Colorado https://www.facebook.com/coloradolavender


Deb Whittaker is a culinary herbalist in Denver, Colorado at herbgourmet@gmail.com