A truly unique and beautiful experience!
That would be any time that you can spend with Deb and Greg Davis on their mountain top lavender farm in Lakeside, MT! Listen to my podcast interview below to learn more about Deb’s story and this truly unique addition to our mountain community:
Address: 417 Blacktail Heights Rd, Lakeside, MT 59922
Phone: (406) 212-5626
Photo credits: purplemountainlavendermontana.com, crownofthecontinent.net,
Read transcribed podcast below:
Making it work in Montana is back after a one year hiatus, we are on the summit of a mountain in Lakeside, Montana, and I am here
with Deborah Davis, Purple Mountain Lavender. And I had dinner here about a month ago and learned that there’s a lavender farm
on top of this mountain here in Lakeside, which I did not know. And I had the most amazing experience when my wife took me here.
So I’d like to welcome our guest, Deb Davis.
I’m so glad you’re here today. And welcome to Purple Mountain Lavender.
Well, tell me a little bit about what you do. I’ll ask you a few questions. This is a lavender farm. So what goes on at Purple Mountain
I started the farm in 2004 and in 2007 I started actually harvesting it and I kept growing more plants. And pretty soon I found that I
was getting more plants in, finding out which varieties work and which ones didn’t work so well here in Montana. And then I found out
people in the community were so supportive and they kept on saying, well, do you do this? And how do I grow this variety and why
won’t my lavender grow? So I just kept expanding. And so now we have a beautiful location up here and I grow over 40 varieties. And
I’ve met so many wonderful people up here and it’s just worked out to be a great experience for me.
So the first thing that happened was you were just growing lavender in this location?
Well, my husband I bought the land in the early 1990s during a snow blizzard. We were cross-country skiing up Blacktail Heights
Road, and we had to take her skis off. The snow was so deep and we found out that there was some land for sale up here and it was
solid trees. And my husband and I decided, let’s go ahead and buy the land. My husband always loved Montana. He went to school
at University of Montana and the sky was always bluer in Montana. So we bought the land here because my husband at the time was
a professor in West Virginia. And so we bought the land, did not know we were going to start growing lavender. I was a school
teacher at the time and I taught school for almost 30 years. And so when we moved up here, in 2002, we built a house and I looked
out the window and I told my two sons and my husband that I wanted to make the world more beautiful and I was going to try growing
lavender because we have a very deep well. So that’s how it all began. We planted 100 plants and it just kind of took off from there.
Well, it’s interesting how you got started. My wife loves lavender, and so when she found out about this place, she’s just totally into it.
So kind of similar to you, I guess, like she would go to the store to buy some plants and things and always bring back some lavender.
And just our house has a lot of lavender. Nothing like what you have here. But what is it about lavender that because there are so
many things you can do with it and whatnot? Tell us a little bit about what it is about lavender that you find so fascinating or
interesting or just makes you want to farm it?
Well, when I decided it was because we we could not irrigate and lavender is a drought resistant plan. And of course, I thought it was
a pretty plant. That’s why we chose it. And then after we got into it and I started growing it, I realized that there are over 450 varieties.
And I kept on trying new varieties to see which one would survive in Montana. When I began, I had a lot of people say you cannot
grow lavender in Montana. And so I said, well, let’s see. So I, I kind of started out because I just wanted to. I love lavender. I did had
no idea I was going to actually have it become a business. So when I thought, well, I was teaching school, I had the summers off, I
could go ahead and, and take that summer time. And then pretty soon I started getting bundles and it sort of multiplied and I decided
that, oh, what can I do with lavender? And the more I’ve learned throughout the years is there’s so much more to lavender than just
the fact that it’s a beautiful plant. I use it for culinary and that’s where we decided to have these culinary dinners you came to just to
share with people that lavender is from the rosemary and mint family and it’s a great enhancement for other flavors in your food. And
so we shared the first lavender dinner and then it was such a success and people were so supportive. We did it again. And then covid
came in and we had to cancel, unfortunately. But this year things worked out well and we decided to have three smaller events and.
Sold out actually quite rapidly within a couple of days, so it’s just one of the things we decided to do was part of the community was to
share the lavender up here and and let people see how beautiful it is and see the different varieties and all the different uses for it.
Yeah. So when I was up here having dinner, I ate lavender, which is weird. When you’re standing next to lavender, you don’t think
you want to eat it. And I can’t remember. Can you remind me who is the chef that prepared that meal. It was amazing. It was the guy
Right. Chef Frank Haynes has been here about a year and he’s been a chef in San Francisco. I think he’s from Vermont. He’s also
been in New York City. He came out here and had a friend, I believe, that lived in Whitefish. And he said, Frank, why don’t you come
on out? So Frank came out. I love doughnuts. And I must say that The Spot-if you haven’t been to the spot you need to go there.
Really gourmet doughnuts. And he changes them monthly. So my husband and I had gone through the drive through a few times
and Frank came out to give a cup of coffee to us, you know, samples to people. And I said, do you have you ever done anything with
lavender? He says, no, but I’d love to. So that’s how I met Frank. And we we just kind of hit it off. I talked about the dinner and I said,
would you be interested in something like that? So Frank’s the one that came up with a menu. And he really did, I think, an excellent
job as far as presentation. And it’s almost like a piece of artwork. Every course that we had in the food was really good, because if
you have really if you use lavender in your food, you just want to say, boy, that is really good, what’s in it? Not like, oh, my gosh, you
know, it tastes like lavender should be the secondary flavor. So that’s how it all started.
Yeah. If you ever get the chance to try one of these dinners, what what I liked was he came out and he presented each course and
taught us about why he made it the way he did and how much lavender emphasis there was. And you’re right, it was just the right
amount of lavender that you could tell it was there, but it didn’t overwhelm that. And food was amazing. And he’s definitely an up and
coming restaurant tour in the area for sure. So are you done with the diners this year or is there going to be more? This is two
thousand twenty one.
Right. There’s one more dinner and it’s coming up this Monday. So we’re looking forward to that one. And I do want to mention that
Julie with Montelena Winery also paired the wines with Frank’s different courses and they explained why they paired certain wine with
that. So the whole idea was to be a culinary experience. So we’re happy with people’s comments about how successful it was. And
then we’ll go ahead and see how twenty, twenty two goes.
Yeah, it was a great experience. I told my wife it was one of the better days she’s ever organized because I didn’t know what it was.
And then I came up here and I’m looking at Flathead Lake. The view’s amazing. There’s lavender all over the property. We’re having
this amazing meal. And and I know that there’s only so much capacity, but definitely getting a reservation for it when it comes up.
Again, it was amazing. You getting back to your lavender. How many different kinds of lavender are you growing on this property?
On this property, we’re up to about 40. Again, there’s over 450 we found I went I use my lavender basically for three purposes. And
I’ve learned this over the year. One, of course, is the culinary we’ve talked about. The second is we have a distillation system. We
have a copper just steam distillation system that we use. And from there we can use some of the varieties that we have to distill our
own essential oil and we get the essential oil and we get the hydro. So when we use those in our products and the third one is I just
am preparing for a gal who is having a wedding and so just two pretty bundles. And so I have another order that I’m getting ready to
deliver to the good food store in Missoula. And I just delivered one to the North Shore Farms over there going on the way to Bigfork.
So I try to to you sell my bundles locally and people come up and we’ll be harvesting and I’ll be bundling and they’ll say, can I buy
that? So we do have guests that come up and just want them in their home as well.
So if you’re a guest and you want to come up, you can help farm. Is that how it works? Or what were you doing to provide farming
experience to people that want to find out what’s going on up here?
Well, I’m we’re really lucky because it’s just my husband, Greg and I, who’s been a big part of this whole process. He kind of likes to
stay behind the scenes, but he’s the one that’s dug all the holes and cleared the land. And he even helps bundle as well. And he does
the oil distillation demo we’re going to be doing in a few weeks. But we have friends who’ve come up and they help with bundling
because when it’s ready, it’s ready. And if you’re interested in helping. You just need to get on my Web site, which is
Purplemountainlavendermontana.com, and let me know that that you are interested in helping to volunteer to bundle. And I have a
few people that go out in the field with me and they help me cut. So it’s really not so much getting out there with that signal and
actually cutting, but it’s more of coming up here and helping to bundle clean it up and then we hang it in the barn. So it’s just using
your senses as far as, you know, touching the lavender. You go out in the field and right now it’s just full of the orchestra of the bees
working. And it’s just a wonderful experience. So we are doing appointment only to keep things under control and keep it since it’s
just my husband and I. But if you let me know and you you come on up and you call ahead and if I’m harvesting will stop and I’ll take
you down the field. And we have beautiful areas for you to photograph the lavender and pictures with your friends. And it’s just again,
we just opened it up about five, six years ago because it was so beautiful. We thought, we’ve got to share this.
So if I want to get some pictures with lavender, I don’t want to farm it necessarily. What’s the best protocol to work with you guys?
Because it’s a beautiful place and you even have, like, cool things, like there’s some old cars and things with the lavender. So people
wanting to take amazing photographs can definitely do that here. How’s the best way to get plugged in to take photographs up here?
Well, if you were just amateur photographer and you want to just come up in and walk the field and take photos, you just need to let
me know and call ahead. I have had professional photographers come up and they like to come either later in the evening or early
morning for that sunrise or sunset. And you just need to let me know about that. And if you’re professional and want to do it later in
the evening or really early, there is a fee that they can just contact me for more details.
And then when I was here having dinner, there’s a gift shop. Is that always open or. Probably not because you live here, but when
can you go to the gift shop?
Well, again, if you call ahead and say, oh, I don’t want to take a class, I just want to come up in Rome and I need to do some
shopping for friends or for the holidays or whatever, if you let me know when I’m here, then I’ll just go ahead, come on up and you
can go in to our shop. And 90 percent of the products that we make are are made with our lavender. And I make all the products and
it’s kind of an interesting process. And I’m really into quality as not so much quantity. So I do everything in small in small steps and I
only make so many at a time. Like I’m just finishing up some pillow inserts that I ran out before. So I’ve sewn up some of them in
these beautiful lavender prints. And then I just harvested and dried and cleaned some of my head called Pink and Chelsea Pink
Lavender Bud, which has such a wonderful fragrance. And I’m now in the process of filling those up. So it’s kind of unique gifts, if
you’re interested in that. And it’s always fun to have people come up in and see what we have.
So remind me again, my wife loves about it here. What is she coming up to do? She’s doing a class. What’s the class she’s doing?
Well, we do. I set up a number of classes every year. I kind of sit I look at the community and what people seem to like before and
some new ideas. What’s coming up this Friday? I have what I call Teddy Bear Day. And what it is, is I have these nice fleece forms
that have been made by a friend of mine, Penny, who took a lot of TLC to make them. And we’re going to fill those and get their
bellies full of lavender. And I think we’re going to make some crowns using our fresh lavender in flowers. And then that’s this Friday.
And the following Friday is a wreath making class. And that is always a fun popular class because people can make different sides of
wreathes using her fresh lavender. And then the first Friday in August, I’m having a new class. It’s called Calm Down Day, in which I
thought with the stress of covid this year, I am a Tai Chi instructor and I have a good friend, Kathy Sakowski, who is going to do a
yoga class. And we’re going to be making bath salts and sachets and enjoying lavender lemonade and shortbread cookies and
having a great calm down day. And then my husband will be doing an oil distillation demo. A lot of people want to know what how can
I distill my own oil? How’s the process work? And he’ll be doing that. Well, it’s kind of a fascinating process and there’s a lot of
chemistry involved in that. So those are the classes that are left for 2021.
So basically going on purplemountainlavendermontana.com Will get you plugged in on those kind of things, right?
Yes, you can get more from it. And if you have a question, just text or call me and. Or e-mail me and I’ll be glad to get back with you,
because this is just like I said, my husband and I and I take pride in not having a chain of how you reach the right person. It’s just me.
So go ahead and let me know what your question is. And if you have a wedding coming up or an event and you’re interested in using
lavender, just let me know and I’ll be more than happy to show you the variety that I think might work for that particular situation
And then get into the weeds a little bit. So you said you’re doing 40 of 450 lavender types. Yes, that exists. Are all the lavender’s
growing in the similar climates or they vary. And I don’t know that much about lavender. One time I was in France, we’re in the
Provence area and we my wife and I, I think that was her big moment where she just decided she was really into lavender. And so
we’ve been growing it at our place in waifish here and there. But I think we only grow like a couple of different kinds that we find at the
local nurseries. But with 450, what what are some of the differences that maybe I might not know that, you know?
Well, you know, and this is like been a learning process for me. Like I said when I started out, I did not intend on you know, I knew
what I wanted to be a lavender farmer. But it’s such a fascinating plant, like I said, that it was it was fun for me to learn more about it.
And I’m still learning. But basically the variety that we recommend up here and that we have found works for us here in Montana is
Lavandula angustifolia. And that is a true English lavender. And then there’s a lot of which is a hybrid. And we have some grool plans
and provisions in a lot of the larger farms. Use those. They have beautiful long stems and nice fragrance. They like to use it for the oil
because you get a lot more oil than you do when we use our in Gustafolia. However, I have found that when we had our harsh
weather conditions that I found that my Gustafolia, are the ones that kind of made it through and a lot of my lavender did not because
it was a hybrid. So I always encourage people as far as what variety to to purchase. Number one, make sure it’s a reputable nursery
to make sure you’re getting a quality plant number, to make sure when you’re growing your lavender the first year you water it. I
usually water mine here in Montana every other day just a little bit, and then I always cut the blooms off.
I don’t let them actually bloom up because I want the roots, energy and the roots. And number three, just make sure that your soil is
six five to seven five and make sure that it’s Rocky or Sandy. If you have a lot of clay, then there will not be good drainage. So you’ll
notice when you come up here that we literally are planted our lavender on a hillside mountainside. And that’s because we have
good drainage and some of our plants are 16 going on 17 years. And some of our other plants that we now propagate are a few
months old. So if I can help you in any way, just let me know, because it’s really interesting. The last variety of species that that you
might find here at some stores, it’s called a Spanish lavender. And the distinction with that is it’s got a little poofy thing at the top, the
kind of plumes up there. And it’s really beautiful, but it usually will not last more than that season. And I encourage people to plant it in
the ground, not necessarily put it in a pot because of drainage and to just, you know, enjoy your plants, make sure they’re separated
because they will grow. They are a shrub. So you cut them back in the spring, in the fall, and then they will be happier and you’ll get
better production. If you just let them go, then they’ll get really Woody, and you’ll find that they aren’t pretty anymore.
That’s great, because that’s one thing we’ve noticed my wife and I growing it and we’re rank amateurs. That’s why we’re glad to get
connected with you and learn things as we’ve cut it too much and we’ve watered it too much. And so it’s a sensitive plant. It has a
way that it likes things that it has to do really well, and then you can definitely over care for it, wouldn’t you say?
Absolutely. The thing about Lavender’s, like I said, we do not irrigate. And so a lot of our lavender plants, we haven’t had rain in over
a month, so they have not been watered in a month. And to go out there and look at them and how beautiful they are, they are really
drought resistant. And I do want to comment. I had to put a fence up a deer fence around our our main field a few years back,
because I think it was 2015, because the deer were even in the wintertime with a foot of snow. They would, you know, brush the
snow away and pull out the plants or or chew on the plants and then spit them out. So you might not have a problem if you go
lavender. But for us, they really became a nuisance. So it’s important that you protect your plants and and realize that they may be
deer resistant, but not for a second to think that they’re not going to bother them.
And remind me, what was the first year you started doing this? More beyond you guys as just a couple, you know, your lavender
production here. When did you start going beyond that? What year was that?
Well, like I said, in 2007, we really started to actually, you know, cut it. And I sold it to a few places and I started selling it, the good
food store in Missoula and just a few locals. And I think it was probably about maybe six years ago that we actually opened it up in.
And when we left, for example, we had 300 new plants just last year. And my goal was to have a thousand plants and be able to walk
through my field as I got older and now we have 1500. So I’m hoping to just I think I need to stop here and we’re just going to continue
to replant ones that might not make it through the the harsh winters. I think this year was more of we had damage to some of our
plants because of the wind. So normally it was like really cold weather. But if we can get a blanket of snow on top of our plants before
it gets cold, then usually they’re protected. We don’t have that much loss this year. We didn’t have the snow that we needed, but we
had those high winds. So not only did we lose a lot of trees, but a lot of our plants have a little bit of damage on the side. So I’m going
to cut back the dead and hopefully next year they will come back and be 100 percent.
So like all farming, you’re always battling Mother Nature a little bit by trying to get something really specific to happen up here.
Absolutely. And things have changed climate wise. Things are different than they were 10 years ago when we were doing lavender.
So, you know, with with with the fires and everything, I’m looking to see how that might affect my plants. When we distill, we hope to
distill starting again this week. So, yeah, you know, I had so much respect for farmers. I really, really do. When I started this again, I
had no idea. But it is weather contingent and my business is also contingent on having volunteers help and and support from the
community. So I must say, like Kalispell Chamber has been so supportive, discover Kalispell and just a wonderful local businesses
and they’ve kind of kept my my enthusiasm going. So and again, having people come up here, I met so many wonderful people.
Yeah, well, this place sells itself, so once the awareness happens, I think you’ll have more people wanting to be up here than you can
handle. What so the future for this Lavender Mountain business is what do you see like the next five years for you and your family
running this lavender farm?
Well, I’ve always I’ve always done the lavender because I can because I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a really hard work. It’s not always just fun.
You know, when it’s ready to harvest, you harvest. But as long as the community is supportive, as long as my husband and I feel that
it’s something that we can continue to do as we mature, as we get older, we’ll keep going. So our plan is going to be to reevaluate
this fall what products people really enjoyed, what varieties really did well and will propagate more. I’m not into selling plants right
now. That’s really another industry in itself. But I love to help people get started on their own planting, whether it’s a business or
whether it’s just something they want to do for pleasure to enjoy their plant. So year by year, it’s going to be interesting to see where
this journey takes me because it’s been a really fun and interesting one. So I feel very, very fortunate to be where I am.
It’s an amazing place to be for those who can’t see. I’m sitting in a porch that’s enclosed and I’m just looking at the lake. And behind
me is all the lavender. And just waking up here would be a great thing to do every day. It’s a great property, I think at this point where
you’re at with things, you’ve met a lot of people and this is making it work in Montana. So I think just as a last thing, since you guys
got this all established kind of over time and, you know, what advice do you have for people that are just trying to plug into the
business community here in Montana and get connected based on your experiences, what’s worked really well and what things do
you like and don’t like about trying to run a business like this in or more of an enterprise in Montana?
Well, first of all, I want to let people know that you can grow lavender in Montana. Certain varieties are better than the others. So if
you want to start. Growing a large quantity of lavender, like I say, we started with 100 plants and this way we found out with our soil
what worked and what didn’t. But you really want to take a look at what is your purpose? You know, what do you want to do with the
Lamet or is it just for your own pleasure? Do you want to go the culinary route? Do you want to do essential oil or do you just want to
sell bundles at the farmer’s markets? People love lavender and I have found that I have chosen to have people come up to the farm
because I know they like lavender. But there’s a lot of opportunities there, I think, with farmers markets for people that want to go to
go there and share their product with them. So I just say not to start too big to find out which varieties work and and to realize what
you want to have a market, you know.
Do you what do you want to use your lavender for before you plant that thousand plants, which some farmers have started in
different parts of the country, and again, make sure that the plants that you do purchase are from reputable nurseries. There is a lot
going around and it can destroy your whole field. So just be careful. Take one step at a time. There’s a lot of good information on on
Google. I’ll be glad to help you any way I can. I am working with Lavender Northwest, which is where Oregon and Washington have
wonderful farms there and I’ve connected with them. I’m also part of the U.S. Lavender Growers Association and getting involved
with them. I’ve been involved with them for probably about ten years. And another good resource. So it’s fun to connect with other
lavender growers and there aren’t that many here, us here in Montana. So one of my goals this year is to try to get more people
involved that are interested in lavender and get more of a support group right here or great.
And then you you were your husband’s name is Greg, right? Yes. And I met him at the dinner. And you said he was a college
professor before this. Is that
Correct? Yes, yes. Yes. He taught economics. And he is he is like I couldn’t have done it without him. He’s been so supportive and
encouraged me. So that’s made a huge difference. And he he does whatever needs to be done. And he’s just a great a great partner.
Well, after I met him, I found out that he was a college professor. And before I found out I could totally picture him being a college
professor, he definitely was a great guy to talk to and would have been a great guy to learn from in college for sure.
So he just he just retired from FCC in Kalispell. He’s also taught at Marshall University in West Virginia. And we he taught in Louisiana
as well. So he’s he’s been around the block and he’s an excellent teacher. And it’s retirement is something we’re just going to take a
new new challenge here and new a new time in our life. But, yeah, he he was I must say, he’s an excellent instructor and teacher
professor. And I think he will be missed.
Yeah. Retirement in quotes. Yes. Very busy.
Right, right. Right. Keeping busy for sure.
Well, we’re going to wrap it up with that. So this is making it work in Montana. We’re with Deb Davis on the summit of their home
property that overlooks Flathead Lake and Lakeside, Montana. And really all you have to remember is lavender. And then go on to
the website, Purple Mountain Lavender, Montana Dotcom to get connected. And I appreciate you taking a little bit of time to tell us
what’s going on up here. And I have a feeling you’re going to be very in demand about lavender based on what you’ve done so far,
because I know I just found out and I felt like I should have known a long time ago what you’re doing up here.
Well, you know, it’s a pleasure. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. And I just want to spread the word word of lavender. It’s a
wonderful, wonderful plant. And like I said, let’s have fun with it.
Well, thank you.
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