June 20, 2023
Written By Adam Buckallew
Long Row Lavender Allows Guests to Relax with an Ancient Herb
On a brilliant May morning, Tracy Smith led a group of 10 ladies through rows of lavender—her farm’s signature crop in rural Warren County, Mo. While she discussed the do’s and don’ts of growing the fragrant shrub, she encouraged her workshop participants to bend down and sniff the silvery-green foliage. The Old World herb, known for its floral fragrance and showy whorls of purple flowers, is the star of the Smith family’s Long Row Lavender farm.
While Smith shared her lavender-growing expertise with her eager audience, the farm’s café hosted visitors ordering lavender bloom lattes, fresh-squeezed lemonade with lavender simple syrup and made-from-scratch soups, salads and sandwiches from the kitchen. Some guests were enjoying the idyllic surroundings while picking beautiful blooms to take home. Others were relaxing at tables beside a tranquil pond.
Anyone who appreciates the serene setting and floral experiences Smith and her family have cultivated can thank the local wildlife. When the Smiths bought the land that would eventually become Long Row Lavender in 2007, their plan was to grow produce. Pesky critters nibbled those ideas away. Soon afterward, Tracy learned about lavender farms from a Midwest Living magazine article that mentioned the plants’ strong taste and aroma make them naturally deer- and rabbit-resistant. She decided to try growing lavender and soon found the beginnings of a business.
“The farm has come a long way and evolved as quickly as we could handle it as a family,” Smith said.
Without any experience raising lavender, Tracy and her husband, Chad, sought as much information as they could find. They read online articles, attended a conference and experimented with floricultural techniques to find what would work best for their farm through trial and error.
“As a Mediterranean native plant, growing lavender in Missouri can be tricky,” Smith said. “It’s not a forgiving plant. We learned quickly that lavender will not thrive in our state’s clay soils without amendments like pea gravel. Planting into well-drained soils is a must. Lavender likes water, but it doesn’t want to sit in it. Too much water will rot the roots; if that happens, you’re done.”
Once the Smiths harvested their first crop, they took bundles of lavender to a farmer’s market in Lake St. Louis to gauge its marketability. When they returned to their Wright City home with $150 in sales and plenty of interest from browsing shoppers, the Smiths decided they may be on to something.
More than a decade later, the Smiths have found four key lavender varieties upon which they rely. Guests who visit Long Row Lavender in early June are treated to views of compact English lavenders like Hidcote, with its dramatic purple flowers, and Munstead, which has cool, lavender-blue floral spikes. In mid-June, taller French lavender hybrids like Phenomenal, a cold-hardy variety with purple-blue blossoms, and Edelweiss, which has profuse snowy white flowers, are in full bloom.
The farm has evolved since the first lavender took root with the addition of an array of flowering plants to add visual interest throughout the spring, summer and fall. The waves of flowers draw pollinators and tourists seeking colorful floral backdrops for Instagram photos.
“Our lavender only blooms in June, and we learned that people expect to see something blooming when they visit the farm,” Smith said. “Flowers drive traffic, so we’ve diversified with daffodils, snapdragons, peonies, chamomile, zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos and Mexican sage. We now have plants that bloom from early spring all the way to the first frost.”
Two years ago, the Smiths introduced the U-pick concept to their farm, allowing guests to harvest their own bouquets. Tracy said the idea made her nervous at first, but it has proven to be the right decision.
“Letting our customers pick the flowers themselves has transformed our business,” she said. “We’re not only providing flowers but experiences that bring people joy.”
The introduction of Long Row Lavender’s café has been another winning idea. Once the farm was opened to the public in 2016, visitors began asking about things to eat. Demand for food led to the construction of a 1,000-square-foot addition to the barn that housed the farm’s gift shop. When the café opened in April 2019, the Smiths were greeted by more than 500 guests who came to try their coffee and baked goods. Later that July, lunch items were added to the menu.
The café has grown to become a fundamental piece of the business. Another 800 square feet of space is being added to the kitchen to allow for a wider assortment of foods to be offered and to service catering demands for reserved events such as bridal and baby showers.
“The flowers bring people in, but the café keeps us alive,” Smith said.
Beyond its striking appearance, lavender use dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who favored the potent herb as an essential ingredient in incense and herbal baths. Studies have shown that the herb’s essential oil, found in Long Row Lavender’s bath and body products, possesses calming qualities that can reduce anxiety.
Guests looking to take home an assortment of lavender-based goods can head to the farm’s gift shop, where handcrafted goods like lip balm, facial serum, herbal bug spray, sugar scrub, body butter and bath bombs are available for purchase. Shoppers who prefer aromatherapy products can opt for lavender sachets, flower bundles or candles. The farm also offers live lavender plants seasonally for guests looking for a perennial pick-me-up they can add to their gardens.
The laid-back, relaxing atmosphere permeating Long Row Lavender is no accident. Tracy and Chad say their family, including their four children, and the farm’s employees have worked hard to provide a peaceful, clean environment where people feel welcome.
“When people come to our farm, I want them to relax, take a load off and enjoy the beauty of nature,” Smith said. “This is a place where you can walk in, take a deep breath and step out of whatever may be worrying you.”
Hundreds of online five-star reviews from satisfied visitors attest that Long Row Lavender has more than fulfilled that goal. The farm’s visitors call it a “charming” “local gem” that is “well worth a visit.”
Lavender may not have been part of the Smiths’ original plans for the land, but it’s certainly transformed their farm into a successful agritourism attraction. Whether it was serendipity or fate that led the Smiths to plant lavender after deer and rabbits chowed on their vegetable patch is hard to say. But there’s no arguing that the end results sure smell sweet.