Life & Style
Fields of Swaying Purple
Chris and Denise Salafia are converting a 25-acre Killingworth cattle farm into a picturesque lavender farm. (Photo by Gary Komoroski/Harbor News
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Inside Killingworth's Lavender Pond Farm
If you've driven by 318 Roast Meat Hill Road in Killingworth lately, you've probably noticed a flurry of activity—and more than a hint of purple peppering the grounds.
Once used to farm cattle, the 25 acres are now home to longtime Killingworth residents Chris and Denise Salafia, who are busy re-purposing the property. The self-proclaimed agricultural "greenhorns" hope to make the spot, which they've christened Lavender Pond Farm, a popular agrotourism destination. They've spent the summer planting thousands of lavender plants—6,000 to date, to be exact, with an additional 2,000 ready to go.
While gardening is nothing new to Denise—she's always enjoyed the hobby and even landscaped the couple's previous home on two acres—she admits that she's never attempted anything of this scale. She nurtured 70 lavender plants at her previous home; now, she and Chris aim to create a working farm complete with rows of undulating lavender for tourists to meander and an on-site farm store selling lavender oils, soaps, candles, and craft items that use the plant for decorative touches. The Salafias hope people will eventually flock to Lavender Pond Farm to enjoy a day among the fragrant plants, taking in the scenery or perhaps unpacking a picnic basket on the grounds.
But getting to that point is, to state the obvious, a huge undertaking. So the couple has turned to Eric Auer of Killingworth Nurseries for his expertise and assistance.
Chris calls Auer "our Yoda."
Adds Denise, "He was the first person we thought of to call...Eric's been in town here forever, and we've done a lot of other projects with him...He's been instrumental in getting this off the ground...He's been here every day with us...He's really our go-to guy."
Luckily for the Salafias, as Denise points out, Lavender Pond Farm is "a beautiful palette to work with." Even luckier, the soil is proving to be the ideal canvas for lavender, which thrives in "dry, rocky conditions" like those native to Killingworth. Plus, lavender is deer-resistant, eliminating another potential challenge.
With these gardening pre-requisites met—and with Auer's help in tending to plumbing and irrigation and choosing soil mixtures—Denise has been able to give free rein to her creativity. She has a very specific vision in mind.
"It's not going to have a commercial feel," she says. "The way we're laying it out is not [in a traditional commercial way]: We've got curved beds and wide, 15-foot pathways between them; we're building mounds so they're raised."
Denise's do-it-yourself, low-tech approach carries over into maintenance, too.
"We're not using any chemicals. We're using the old-fashioned hoe and rake to take care of weeds that way," says Denise.
Many local residents have contributed to the project this summer, among them a handful of employees—"a nice group of people who have been coming to keep up the planting: a group of college students and moms," says Denise. The Salafias' two sons, Jackson, 10, and Joseph, 7, both students at The Country School in Madison, have also found their niches in the endeavor.
"Our little guy...is the rock collector," Denise says of Joseph, "and Jackson will help plant...He likes to drive the golf cart back and forth."
The Salafias' six-month-old Labradoodle, aptly named Flora, also helps by offering encouragement to the busy workers.
In total, the team has planted 25 beds of lavender. The goal is to have 32 beds in the ground by Aug. 1 "so they can have a couple of months to really establish themselves before winter," says Denise. The lavender will start blooming next spring, and the Salafias anticipate a public opening of the farm soon after. Different varieties will bloom at different times beginning in early spring and continuing into autumn. Provençe, Phenomenal, Hidcote, Giant Hidcote, Edelweiss, Grosso, Munstead, Elegance, Buona Vista, Jean Davis, and other varieties will paint the fields a striking array of colors and shades.
The effect, Denise hopes, will be welcoming to strollers and those who want to clip the perfect batch of lavender for their own bouquet or sachet.
Even in its in-progress state, people are already taking note of the changes at the farm.
"We have a lot of looky-loos-cars go by very slowly and want to see what the tractors are up to," reports Denise.
Chris believes Lavender Pond Farm will also have a positive effect on the town of Killingworth.
"This is really a celebration of open space, and the town is very behind it," says Chris, noting that the Salafias are changing 318 Roast Meat Hill from a residential zone to an open space zone. "It's kind of the opposite of what other [people and developers] are doing with big lots...Our goal is to make this place something people can be proud of."
Denise agrees, looking forward to the project's fruition.
"When we purchased this beautiful property, we wanted to make it work for itself; to turn it back into a farm...I think it will be just beautiful to look at this whole field of swaying purple."
Stay up to date with the Salafias' progress on their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/lavenderpondfarm.