HARWICH -- Like many good things -- a rainbow, a shooting star, luck at cards -- it arrives suddenly and doesn't stay long. For a couple of weeks in late June and early July, the 14,000 lavender plants at Cape Cod Lavender Farm burst into purple bloom, filling the air with their distinctive, pungent scent.
This is when Cynthia and Matthew Sutphin and Cynthia's four children subjugate their lives to the life cycle of lavender. All picking of the tender stalks is done by hand, Cynthia said. The farm sells most of the crop fresh, and the rest is hung to dry. By September, everything is gone.
The farm occupies 20 secluded acres, surrounded by 60 acres of conservation land. It's serene and peaceful, and the air is filled with birdsong. Sutphin loved gardening and she wanted to be at home while her children were growing up, so a small nursery on her spacious property seemed like a perfect fit.
Lavender, she said, spoke to her. "Lavender is the most versatile plant, in my opinion, that God has created," she said. "It's pleasing to the touch, it has a wonderful scent, and it tastes delicious. It pleases all the senses."
She began by researching varieties of the aromatic plant, to determine which types would survive Cape Cod winters. In the early '90s she put 400 plants in the ground, and once they survived the winter, she was on her way.
The following spring her husband gave her 10,000 plants, and the couple themselves set each one into the ground. Cape Cod Lavender Farm was born in 1995 when the Sutphins invited the public to attend the harvest.
The farm grows about seven varieties of lavender and sells more than 20, courtesy of two growers who supply additional types. The primary varieties are Munstead and Hidcote. "Everything we sell is hardy for the Cape, the Boston area, and Connecticut," Sutphin said.
Visitors enjoy the Enchanted Garden, created by Eddie Foisy , a gardener and stonemason in Harwich. A circular walkway leads to a miniature turreted castle in a shade garden filled with hosta, ferns, and sweet woodruff. Flat rock benches offer respite from the summer heat. Children often leave shells, pebbles, pine cones, or coins on the castle's doorstep -- "gifts for the fairies," Sutphin explained.
Lavender finds its way into a variety of products, most crafted by Cape Cod artisans, in the farm's shop. Among the most popular are soap, candles, and a lavender-lemon marmalade Sutphin recommends for chicken, fish, and pork , or served with crackers and brie. Also available are lavender-scented soy candles, chocolate bars infused with lavender, and lavender laundry detergent.
Lavender plants require weeding and pruning, and don't want too much water, Sutphin said. They don't like pine bark mulch, which is too acidic; the Sutphins mulch with sand or stone, which reflects heat back onto the Mediterranean plants. They are drought tolerant and resistant to deer and woodchucks. "Nothing really likes them but people," she said.
Fresh lavender stems will remain fragrant and moist in a container (no water) away from direct sunlight for about two weeks, Sutphin said. After that, the plants will dry naturally and the scent will intensify. Each bud contains an oil sac that, when touched, releases a tiny burst of aromatic oil. A sachet of dried lavender contains hundreds of such sacs and will remain fragrant for years with only an occasional squeeze.
It's as though this accommodating plant wants to make up for its stingy flowering season.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.