Pick a Purple Posy

Apex lavender farm open until June 7

With the sun shining, the bees buzzing, the birds singing and the fragrant clumps of purple blossoms waving in a slight breeze, a morning at Mezza Luna Lavender Farm is postcard perfect.

For a few weeks a year, Lourdes Santos invites fellow lavender lovers to her family’s small Apex farm. Visitors can pick flowers, play games, have a snack, or bring a picnic to enjoy the beautiful location.

“I fell in love with the field,” said Santos, who moved to the area about six years ago with her husband and three children.

Nearly every day, she would drive by the property, imagining a field of sunflowers.

The family bought the 9-acre, former tobacco farm near the American Tobacco Trail on the Wake-Chatham county line. Hungry deer made sunflowers impractical, but Santos kept thinking about flowers.

Her husband had been in the military, and the family had lived for a time in Germany. In the spring, they would visit the lavender fields blooming from Germany to Provence.

“It was so beautiful, with everything in bloom,” Santos said. “I thought, if I can bring a little bit of that here, I’ll be happy.” 

But starting the lavender farm was no bed of roses.

The soil on the  farm was seriously depleted, so Santos planted cowpeas and hauled in manure. Meanwhile, she read everything she could about growing lavender.

“Research, research, research — it was like doing another dissertation,” said Santos, who has her doctorate in industrial psychology.

Because the North Carolina climate isn’t ideal for the plants, lots of trial and error followed Santos’ research.

“I’m pushing it,” Santos said. “Lavender doesn’t like the humidity here, so it takes lots of physical work.”

Today, the lavender planted three years ago is mature, and Mezza Luna is open for its first official season. Santos has about 1,500 plants and 12 varieties of lavender growing on about 2.5 acres. The different varieties have staggered blooming times; some are grown for fragrance, others for cooking.

Santos doesn’t use any pesticides on the flowers, so a large sign warns small pickers of spiders.

“Me and the ants are always fighting,” she said. “They love the plants.” 

To preserve the lavender, Santos says, hang the bunch upside-down in a cool, dry place for about a week. Once dry, the lavender will keep its fragrance for more than a year.

When they get tired of picking lavender, kids can play corn hole, board games or baseball. Or they can make a craft or have their fingernails painted. And the lavender ice cream, made especially for Mezza Luna by Fresh Local Ice Cream in Raleigh, is a great way to cool off.

With a short harvest season, Santos is still building her business. She makes artisan soap, which she sells long after the purple blossoms fade. And a local photographer uses the picturesque farm as a location for wedding and other portraits.

“We keep trying to think creatively,” Santos said.

Mezza Luna Lavender Farm, 1850 New Hope Church Road, is open for you-pick harvesting until June 7, daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can harvest your own lavender for $10 or buy a pre-picked bunch for $12. You can also buy soap, sachets, essential oil, cookies and ice cream. facebook.com/MezzaLunaLavenderFarm

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