Floral Grounds

Floral Grounds

Oh, to be a 7-year-old again—or so I thought on a recent blue-sky, late-summer weekday when visiting Lavender Pond Farm in Killingworth. One such munchkin, in the company of his family, couldn’t be more thrilled to be there, especially when taking a guided tour of the 25-acre outdoor attraction on the LPF Express, a solar-powered, life-sized toy train.

At one point, the train approached “Roller Coaster Hill,” a minor descent along its well-traveled path. Our tour guide, Jackson Salafia, son of farm owners Chris and Denise Salafia, encouraged us to “raise our hands and make some noise,” whereupon this youngster gave forth a boisterous “Woo!” as though he were riding the Kingda Ka, the tallest and fastest coaster in the world, at Six Flags. All the jaded adults on board laughed, of course, but in shared recognition that there’s something about this place that inspires all who enter to abandon cynicism and embrace a little unfettered joy.

Perhaps that’s because the farm is suffused with both idyllic beauty and an open-hearted eccentricity. Let’s start with its floral assets, the most striking being the more than 30 garden beds of lavender filled with over 10,000 English and French lavender plants. Among the 13 varieties are English Munstead and Hidcote Giant, the English-French hybrid Grosso, the English-Portuguese hybrid Phenomenal and the French hybrids Provence and Edelweiss (which, as the Sound of Music reminds us, produces snow-white blossoms).

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English lavender grows shorter and possesses less oil content than French, making it more palatable when included in a variety of gourmet dishes, snacks and baked goods. French lavender’s bigger, more pungent buds are ideal for harvesting essential oils and creating a variety of personal care and household products. Overall, this perennial species’s best feature may be how easy it is to manage: Lavender plants thrive in dry soil and full sunshine, return hardily every spring and live to be 10 to 12 years old.

Though late spring/early summer is when the lavender plantings display their “wow” factor in full (there are some that have a second bloom well into late fall), other awe-worthy features of this site include a large aerated natural pond populated with ducks and lily pads—you can walk a groomed path entirely around it—that, when I visited, had just served as a hatchery for baby turtles. The farm’s signature ambassadors are a trio of fauna including Flora the “Lavendoodle” (although this official canine greeter is getting on in years, so may not be out and about when you come by) and a coop of surprisingly friendly “Broadway chickens” bearing names like Jean Valjean (Les Misérables), Elphaba (Wicked), Annie (Annie) and Tracy (Hairspray). When I approached their pen, they walked up to me Sunset Boulevard-style, as if ready for their closeup. Then there are the honeybees, residents of the farm’s 10-hive apiary, who, trust me, are everywhere—but if you don’t bug them, they won’t bug you.

Despite this bounty, it’s the man-made features that give Lavender Pond Farm its whimsical personality. Walk along the wooded portion of the pond path and you’ll come to a long trail of “fairy gardens”—a spritely statuary of seemingly every style and vintage. Elsewhere, there’s a human-sized chess board in the site’s “formal” garden, a lavender labyrinth (which features all 13 of the LPF lavender varieties and is allegedly a spiritual experience, but there were so many bees working when I entered that I respectfully withdrew) and a classic covered bridge built by New Hampshire’s venerable Arnold M. Graton Associates. One minute you’ll come across a wishing well, the next a gazebo with a heron weathervane—not to mention a wooden swing for two, an array of designer birdhouses set atop split-rail fence posts and the site’s copper alembic still for distilling hydrosol and essential oils.

Most striking of all is the farm’s Smartflower—in 2017, the first installed in Connecticut and only the second in the US—which provides enough solar energy to power not only the LPF Express but all the property’s buildings. As the end-of-year holidays approach, the focal point becomes the site’s small barn of a gift shop, filled to the rafters with lavender-infused products from bath salts, shower gels, lotions and air fresheners to baking kits, teas, jams, chocolate bars, popcorn and, of course, live plants and honey (this year, those 10 busy beehives produced 350 jars). Various handmade items by local artisans—several of them the Salafias’ friends and relatives—are on display as well. A line of farm-themed jewelry by Connecticut native Susan Roberts, delicately adorned with faceted lavender stones and tiny sterling silver bees and dragonflies, is especially enticing.

Also in stock are copies of the children’s books The Story of Ferdinand and Miss Rumphius. One hundred percent of their sales are donated to New Haven’s Smilow Cancer Center—and both, in fact, are Lavender Pond Farm’s main inspirations, the books Denise Salafia would read to her mother during the latter’s struggle with terminal breast cancer. Rumphius, in particular, concerns a protagonist searching for the key to a life well lived, who decides to scatter lupine seeds everywhere in the belief that those flowers will make the world a more beautiful place. With that philosophy in mind, Salafia established her farm in 2014.

Does such a goal seem naive, too childlike? Maybe—but I can’t think of a better retreat from the hurly-burly than a haven that celebrates creation in all its forms, where you can sit in an Adirondack chair, drink lavender lemonade, commune with the chickens and smell the flowers.

Lavender Pond Farm
318 Roast Meat Hill Rd, Killingworth
Fall hours: Wed-Sun 10am-4pm
(203) 350-0367

Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean.

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