Farm specializes in herbs, small edibles
Cleopatra used lavender to seduce Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. In the Tudor period, hopefuls put lavender under newlyweds’ beds to induce passion. Throughout history, lavender has been hyped to induce relaxation, heal aches, mummify corpses, ward off evil spirits, scent clothing and enhance bath water.
The bluish-purple plant of myth, magic and medicine rarely fails to intrigue visitors to the Lavender Fields Herb Farm in Glen Allen.
Many farms typically smell like manure. Not this one. The sweet aroma of lavender and many other herbs, like thyme, savory, rosemary, basil and mint wafts on the breeze.
Between Memorial Day and July 4, when hundreds of lavender plants bloom, sniffing fans descend.
Farm owner Shaun Mercer grows 12 varieties of aromatic lavender, including Grosso, Provence, Munstead and Vera. The farm’s store is chock full of lavender plants, oils, soaps, sprays and in summer, even lemonade and ice cream. And Mercer has expanded his inventory to also include other herbs, flowers and organic vegetables like zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.
A family farm
Mercer is the sixth generation in his family to farm this land, located just 15 minutes from downtown Richmond in Glen Allen. In 2000, his uncle and aunt, Stan and Nicole Schermerhorne, established a wholesale herb farm, and in 2007, Shaun began retail sales there.
After growing up in Australia and working in hospitality, Mercer realized that he likes to serve people and interact. A self-educated plant specialist, he’s especially knowledgeable about herbs and vegetables, including their characteristics and growing requirements. He can readily discuss the fine points of herbs with customers and offer tutorials on how to cut and dry herbs.
Faithful customer Mary Harris Jones buys herbs and vegetables at Lavender Fields Farm to “support the locals,” she said. She loves the “knowledgeable personal service,” like Mercer’s advice on buying burpless cucumbers for her father.
How to use lavender
Lavender may not be on everyone’s grocery shopping list, but Mercer and his staff readily tout its uses. For cooking, it has a sweet floral flavor. It’s often included in herb blends, but be judicious in using it, he cautioned.
“If you use too much, no one will eat it,” Mercer said.
In addition, it’s a “natural diffuser,” he said, used in aromatherapy to relieve stress, reduce anxiety and foster sleep.
Lavender oil is derived from 30 pounds of foliage distilled into one pound of liquid. Putting sachets in the clothes dryer gives garments a fresh scent; sachets can repel moths, some say. People decorate with lavender or use it as wedding favors.
But growing lavender in Virginia’s humid climate is a challenge, Mercer said. “In winter, I can lose 50 percent of my plants if the weather is variable, up and down.”
In its native Mediterranean habitat, it thrives in the sun in dry, rocky soil, “where weeds like to grow,” he said.
Mercer also conducts online classes in herb and vegetable gardening and cooking with herbs. The farm’s website posts cooking-with-herbs videos and recipes.
Mercer specializes in what he calls “small edibles.” Here’s a partial list of the farm’s edibles, many of them hard to find in typical stores and garden centers:
-100 varieties of herbs, including 15 varieties of basil; four varieties of oregano (“Cuban variegated has a nice zing,” Mercer said.); catnip; chervil; rue and sorrel
-Mint, including several varieties of spearmint and peppermint. He offers regular and chocolate peppermint. “Put the chocolate peppermint leaves in your coffee,” he suggested.
-13 varieties of heirloom tomatoes
-27 varieties of peppers, including Italian roaster, pepperoncini, Thai dragon and Trinidad scorpion
-Berries that are easy to grow in containers
Mercer also sells native flowers to support pollinators — plants like echinacea and false indigo and hummingbird nectar plants. Customers can shop at outside tables and inside the greenhouse.
Many of Lavender Fields Herb Farm’s employees are over 50. One, Ann Roland, has taught customers how to make herbal wreaths and gardening classes. She now works in the store.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere,” Roland said. “It’s not a big-box store where you don’t get much help. Here you get quality plants and advice.”
If you go
The farm’s lavender field “is best enjoyed in June,” according to its website. Admission to the field is $7 per person, which includes 20 lavender stems and a lavender ice cream sample.
Learn more about lavender plants at the Lavender Tour at 11 a.m. daily. The tour is free with paid admission. No registration is required.
For more information visit lavenderfieldsfarm.com or call (804) 262-7167. The farm’s address is 11300 Winfrey Road, Glen Allen.