When you enter the tall, well-lit building near the road you see purple. You even smell purple….and why not, you have just entered a sensual paradise called Flowers to Fragrance, and lavender is all around you. The aroma of dried lavender fills the air. As you gaze out past the violet curtain and beyond the lilac benches, you see a field filled with blooming purple lavender, and you want to dash the 40 feet to the edge of the field and run your fingers through the plant knowing the heady Lavender scent will stay on your hands.
The start-up of a new lavender farm on Highway 89 between Harriston and Mount Forest was delayed, but the July opening found both pink Monarda and purple Lavender in full bloom. One must drive in to enjoy the view.
Lavender derives its name from the Latin lavare – to wash. Cultures throughout the world regard Lavender as a multi-purpose therapy– everything from a worm remedy for children to an expectorant and anti-spasmodic. Lavender is highly regarded as a relaxant and tonic for the nervous system.
Shirley and Aubrey Morris and son Nick were living in Manitoba,cash cropping wheat, flax, canola, peas, sunflowers and coriander in the early ‘90s. Commodity prices were extremely low and farmers were told they must diversify in order to stay afloat. Aubrey picked up a brochure on “Essential Oils,” and after careful research and deliberation, they made the decision to try an unusual farming product. The family acquired Monarda plants from the Morden Research Facility and Aubrey attended Purdue University for a study course on Aromatherapy and Essential Oils.
Nick left farming and worked multi-media and graphic design. Another brother Matthew had a landscaping business in Ontario. When the three sisters visited from the UK it seemed like a long haul from the Toronto airport out to Manitoba. In due course the Morris couple considered Ontario and purchased a 50-acre Minto Township farm. The idea was to crop the same aromatic varieties as they had in Manitoba and eventually complete a dream.
Aubrey had planted the original Monarda by hand, and in 2004 he went back to his fields. He and Shirley dug up each plant, filled a van and a car, and transferred them, over two and a half days, from Manitoba to Minto. Each of the plants was reinterred behind the barn in Harriston Loam.
Since this strain of Monarda is a hybrid, the plants don’t set seed. As a result they have to be propagated by cuttings, cared for while rooting, and then planted out. All this T.L.C. was done by Aubrey Morris. The common name for Monarda is Bee Balm.
Nick joined his parents’ endeavor in 2005 and that year they did the first Lavender trials. The family planted the initial 300 plants in three rows of 100. Six years later they are up to 20 acres under cultivation with a mix of 10 different types of Lavender plus Monarda, Lemon Balm, Hyssop, Chamomile, Marigold, Calendula and Orange Mint. The blooming fields of purple Lavender and pink Monarda are breathtaking (even to non-gardeners).
Nick, who now lives in Fergus with partner Erin and 10-month-old son Rowan, is responsible for the day to day farming operation (planting, harvesting, distilling etc.) Last year Frankie, one of the three Morris daughters, left the UK to join the family industry. She looks after the business end and tends the retail store. Another brother who lives in Australia made a stamp and the name ‘Flowers to Fragrance’ will be imprinted on all future batches of soap bars.
As a result of last year’s harvest, shelves are artistically arranged with a complete line of products – all hand-made, and all natural ingredients.
Nick attended a workshop making cosmetics with the hope he could meet someone who would create items for Flowers to Fragrance. Jan Benham was the instructor and she was interested. A year later they made sample products to give out to family and friends. Beneficial comments came back from that experiment regarding color and texture.
As you stroll around the Morris’s new show room (I had plenty of time to do this as Frankie had a busy customer morning) you see shelves loaded with beauty products, not just for women, but also for men, new babies and even pets.
A rack of stationery sports the watercolor works created by another sister Renira Barnes. The individual cards state “inspired by wild and quiet places”.
The family is already planning expansion – not only to their line of products, but also to diversify the farm.
Few people realize Lavender is quite hardy in this area. Future plans include educational group tours. For a small fee a visit would start with the bright pink Monarda field to the right of the retail store, and energetic walkers could hike down the hedgerow through the lowlands and up to the Lavender fields past plots of Hyssop, Lemon Balm, and other aromatic herbs. Full circle will bring you back to the shop after a healthy walk on well worn paths with little bridges over the wet spots. The lands and treed areas are filled with birds and wildlife.
School children as well as the general public will be invited to watch and learn about the cutting, harvesting and distilling to make the end product – essential oils to be used in recipes of natural hand crafted beauty products.
Only the flowers of the Lavender are cut when harvesting, but with Monarda, Lemon Balm and Mint, the whole upper plant (flowers, leaves and stalks), is harvested for the distillation process.
A mini Forage Harvester was purchased from Australia. This little machine is only about four feet wide, but it’s big enough to span a row. The harvester chops the plants, and blows into a trailer. Once the trailer is full it all gets transferred into one of two 100 gallon pots on the distiller. The distiller has a low pressure propane boiler (13 psi) and Nick can control the amount of steam going into each pot (about .5 psi). This slowly cooks the plants. The steam is condensed into a heat exchanger and then condensed back into Hydrosol and essential oil and dropped into a separator. Very little essential oil is actually extracted compared to the volume of Hydrosol.
Hydrosol is the condensation liquid produced during the steam distillation process. The oil extracted is suspended in the hydrosol.
Once the distillation process is finished (about 2 hours) the cooked plants are left to cool and then added to the compost pile.
Although the Morris family is spread over the world, they’re a close knit family and each member has valuable input into this new venture.
Predictions for the future – according to Aubrey Morris: “a business is like a river, it will flow in the direction it wants to”.