Here and There
Greg and Sheila Kent grow nine kinds of lavender at Frog Rock Lavender Farm near Seattle.
By Mary Fran McQuade
Imagine waking up to the burble of a hillside stream and the sweet scent of lavender. Or holding your wedding or anniversary party in a hidden hollow in the woods, surrounded by lavender fields.
Those are among the many charms of Frog Rock Lavender Farm, a 2½-acre herbal getaway less than one hour from downtown Seattle.
Getting there is half the fun. From the city, you take a half-hour ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, 48 woodsy square miles populated by upscale urban escapees and a thick sprinkling of artists and craftspeople. Ten minutes or so down the road, you turn off at the horse pasture, bump down the lane and you’re there.
“We’re the closest lavender farm to downtown Seattle,” says Sheila Kent, who runs the farm with her husband, Greg. (Farther west, the town of Sequim, on the Olympic peninsula, has built a big reputation as a lavender center.)
At Frog Rock, the personal touch dominates. The Kents don’t advertise, Sheila explains. “We put up road signs along the one and only highway on the island.” Though they promote pick-your-own lavender, she says, “People really like it better if we pick it for them. We know what’s in best condition and will last longest.”
The Frog Rockers also have developed a nice line of organic lavender products. At present, these are sold only at the farm, but are expected to be available soon through the farm’s website, www.frogrocklavender.com. Sheila’s especially proud of the lavender-scented all-vegetable soy candles in tins with the Frog Rock logo. “They make a nice souvenir,” she says. She’s also found genuine embroidered Irish linen to make into sachets holding a generous three cups of dried lavender. A luxuriously rich shea butter moisturizer, lavender bath salts and salt scrub round out the farm’s offerings.
The venture started out modestly in 1998. At the time, Sheila and Greg were living in a rural subdivision on the island. Then, their realtor called and said “You have to see this property.”
The site was an east-facing slope overgrown with blackberry vines and alders, with a small creek and pond at the bottom of the hill. To some people, it might have looked scrubby. “But,” Sheila says, “we saw the potential.” A local magazine article had alerted her to the possibilities of growing lavender in the Pacific Northwest, and she and Greg had toured the lavender route in Provence some years earlier. So their decision seemed clear.
Of course, there was a pesky tangle of scrub to deal with, as well as clay soil. “Lavender hates clay,” Sheila laughs. “But we found out that with a dump truck and a tractor, you can do a lot in a hurry.” Truckloads of sandy loam were brought in by a local contractor and laid in berms, creating long, raised rows for the lavender plants. At the top of the slope, near the house, colorful beds of astilbe, sunflowers, hydrangeas and red-stemmed dogwood add more visual interest, punctuated by Japanese maples and a weeping katsura. Gravel paths, instead of grass, keep maintenance easy.
Down in the hollow, at the edge of the woods, the pond hosts a flock of resident ducks and other wildlife. That’s also where the farm gets its name — from the frog-shaped rock at the edge. It helps that the farm’s rock is a miniature version of a well-known local landmark nearby: a huge rounded rock painted to look like a giant frog.
Though the Kents grow nine kinds of lavender, they rely mainly on ‘Fred Bouton’, ‘Grosso’ and ‘Provence’. Prime season for the harvest is from mid-June to mid-August, but good old Fred, a shrubby plant with gray-blue foliage, blooms on into September.
For those who want to spend more than a day in these peaceful surroundings, there’s the Log House at the top of the hill, a short distance from the Kents’ home. Newly hand-built of honey-colored Montana logs, this is no dark, cramped settler’s cabin. Wide windows, a 22-foot beamed ceiling and 1,200 square feet with main-floor and loft sleeping quarters provide plenty of room to relax.
A fireplace adds to the cozy atmosphere, but for real cooking, there’s a gourmet kitchen equipped with a propane cook stove and convection oven, dishwasher and large refrigerator. As a bonus, the cupboards are stocked with fresh-ground Nicaraguan coffee, tea and none other than lavender honey. For true romantics, there’s a broad front porch overlooking the lavender-filled valley. “People have said it’s like being in paradise,” Sheila reports proudly.
Visitors can rent the Log House for their own private use or book the farm’s grounds for a larger event, such as a wedding, company dinner or reunion. “Just contact the wedding planner or caterer of your choice, and we’ll work with them,” Sheila says.
Greg and Sheila are living an herb-lover’s dream, but they didn’t exactly plan it that way. Before buying the land, they’d really only gardened in typical city and suburban yards. At first, Sheila telecommuted for an online travel company, but she’s given that up to focus on the farm. Greg still works as an executive in the menswear product line for Nordstrom’s, the well-known West Coast department store.
“I’ve always liked to garden,” Sheila says happily. “My family used to say that visiting garden centers was my ‘fix.’ Here I’ve been able to go wild. It’s a hobby farm that’s gotten a lot bigger than we ever imagined.”
Mary Fran McQuade is a freelance writer and gardener based in Toronto. She searches out herb gardens wherever she goes.
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