Lorie and Patrick Costigan took a pretty big risk. On a recent Saturday they opened up their 26-acre Glendarragh Farm in Appleton to all comers. Hundreds showed up. The day sparkled with sunshine, and a gentle breeze ruffled the trees. The rows of lavender were in full bloom and fragrant as only lavender can be. The mood was welcoming and the setting sublime. It would not be surprising to hear that some of those many visitors may have never left. And who’d blame them?

After all, who could resist the rolling hillside of rows of aromatic, blooming lavender? Who would want to leave that charming barn that dates to the 1820s, chock full of everything lavender from potted lavender plants to lavender-scented lotions to cookies, and where bundles of lavender blooms are hung to dry?

Whether they were gardeners or just sightseers, all the visitors were in awe of the sight of such vigorous lavender. The atmosphere simply shimmered with lavender. Imagine — lavender growing right there in Appleton. You could almost see those light bulbs flashing on — purple ones of course — for all those gardeners in attendance.

Their questions peppered the air, and both Lorie and Patrick did their best to keep up with the flow of queries on how they achieved such magic, as Patrick directed cars to park, and Lorie served up lavender lemonade and helped visitors select from a host of hand-crafted lavender products.

At only about three years old, the farm, which is the first commercial lavender farm in Maine, seems as much a miracle as the hundreds of lusty lavender plants growing there. With backgrounds in journalism (Lorie) and economics (Patrick), the two mastered the lavender learning curve quickly.

And now the Costigans’ enthusiasm for lavender is catching. Already several local restaurants and inns are featuring lavender creations to savor, and the purple-blooming mounds of silver foliaged lavender plants can be seen in home gardens all around the area. It’s nothing short of a lavender epidemic.

“We started the farm in 2007, and before we even unpacked, we were busy out here,” said Patrick as he surveyed the rows of lush plants. Hundreds of English and French lavender plants were put in then.

“It has not been without trials and tribulations,” said Lorie. “Lavender, when dormant, is quite gray. We spent a few sleepless nights in the early days wondering if the crop had come through the winter. It had, of course.”

The planted rows at Glendarragh Farm are separated by neat gravel paths. The crushed rock is both attractive and functional, providing drainage necessary for lavender survival.

Lavender has long been a valued herb, for both its wonderful fragrance and its healthful, antiseptic and calming properties, and culinary uses too. Glendarragh lavender is harvested for bath, decorative and traditional purposes. At Glendarragh Farm more than a dozen lavender varieties thrive. In all there are more than 30 types of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), seven of which can be found at the farm.

“The angustifolias are hardy to Zone 5, and are prized for the scent of foliage, flowers and, most important, oil,” said Lorie. “The lavandins — better known as French lavender — are more difficult to grow in Maine, but produce more flowers and more oil per acre than the angustifolias. Thus far, the five French varieties being grown by Glendarragh are doing well.”

“Our 1822 homestead once housed cattle, poultry and other livestock — sustaining the farmers who lived and worked here,” she said. “The farm fell silent in the late 1960s.”

Today the farm along the St. George River is a commercial lavender farm that revels in its sustainable practices using only organic manure from Kinney Farms and limestone. This spring the Costigans opened a store in Camden selling a plethora of lavender products.

“We do hope, however, to be a family that found a way to breathe new life into an aged farmhouse and, in the process, introduce a crop that has been coveted for myriad uses,” said Lorie.

The future prospects of the farm seem unlimited, but Lorie insists on first things first, and that means keeping and getting the farm and its buildings in top order.

“People have suggested many uses for the property, but our focus is on planting out the fields and also repairing an 1890 barn to convert it to a drying and classroom space,” she said. Among those suggestions are a tea house, a wedding destination and classrooms to instruct on growing and using lavender. Another thought has been beekeeping with lavender honey to be added to the mix.

“The local response has been wonderful,” said Lorie of the recent open farm day at Glendarragh. “People are just so pleased to learn that they can grow lavender. That part has been a surprise to us. Seeing some 300 people walk through the fields and gardens and to the St. George was surreal to us after all our quiet work. You can dream of such a day, but when it happens it becomes pure magic. We never could have imagined so many would want to see our young results and are really quite humbled by it all.”

Indeed Glendarragh Farm has “lowered the bar” when it comes to growing this fragrant herb, dramatically demonstrating how easy it is for everyone to grow lavender in Maine. And there’s something else about lavender to love, something besides its wonderful properties of scent, medicinal, antiseptic and culinary attributes — deer don’t like it. Imagine a handsome flowering plant that deer eschew. How great is that?

Whether you grow it or not, lavender is one of those plants that no one can resist. One whiff and you’ll never forget this amazing plant. But now that we know how well lavender grows here, there’s simply no reason not to yield to the temptation. Go ahead, you know you want to.

Creating a haven for lavender

Lavender is native to the Mediterranean where heat and low humidity, coupled with sunshine, are found in abundance. Dry, rocky and sunny hillsides there provide the perfect environment for lavender. While it would be nearly impossible to duplicate this environment here in Maine, that doesn’t mean gardeners here cannot grow lavender. Glendarragh Farm has proved that lavender can be grown here and grown well. Lorie and Patrick Costigan happily share their knowledge and experience of growing lavender successfully in Maine. They have proved that many English and French varieties (Spanish lavender varieties are only hardy to Zones 7-9) are excellent choices.

Here are some basics:

• Lavender enjoys the conditions we would enjoy at the beach: Sun. Sand. A little water, feet that don’t stay wet too long, and more sun.

• Lavender requires good drainage. Soggy areas should definitely be avoided. Check the soil’s pH (potential hydrogen) to ensure it falls somewhere between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil is too acidic the lavender will not thrive. If the soil is too alkaline, the nutrients are “tied” up in the soil and the plant cannot use them. Yellowed growth can be indicative of a soil that is out of balance. Adding compost can help balance the pH.

• Mulching with a small particle mulch or compost after planting helps with the weed control, but avoid mulching right up to the stem of the small plant. Instead, leave a perimeter about 2 inches wide around the plant. We prefer to mulch with local crushed stone. Remember, lavender hates humidity and needs good air circulation around its base.

• For ultimate show, space plants according to their height measurement. For example, Grosso can grow to 3 feet. By spacing these 3 or 4 feet apart, you can create a living “wall” of fragrant bloom. To make a tight row or hedge, set plants close together, but always consider the need for air circulation.

In addition, the Costigans have found that “most lavender are started from cuttings from mature plants. This is the most accurate way to cultivate, producing an exact replica of the original plant. In addition, lavandins either do not make seeds or the seeds are sterile, so you will never see a seed packet of these.”

A handful of compost in the planting hole and regular watering during the plants’ first growing season can help ensure success. Allowing plenty of room for air circulation around plants can help offset humid conditions often found here. Dampness can kill lavender quicker than can cold conditions. At Glendarragh Farm the plants are mulched with stones in the winter to protect them from harsh winds that can uproot plants. Stone or brick walls with sunny exposures can provide additional heat in summer and wind protection in winter, making them good choices for lavender gardens.

Springtime pruning helps to shape the plants and promotes growth for the summer growing season. Fall pruning to round the plants will help prevent winter damage and breakage. Cutting the taller varieties of plants back by about a third, and lower varieties an inch or two is suggested. If the plants have suffered some winter die-back, do not prune until there is evidence of new green growth at the base of the plants. Harvesting blooms further prunes and shapes plants.

For more information on the lavender products available and the lavender varieties grown at the farm and their special properties, visit mainelavenderstore.com.

Lynette L. Walther is the recipient of the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award and the Florida Magazine Association’s Silver Award of Writing Excellence. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and she gardens in Camden.