The Canvas Ranch Story


 

I learned that, to grow quality lavender for the very best essential oil, you need to be happy.

 

On those rare mornings when I wonder what in heck I’ve done, giving up my suits and heels for overalls and muck boots, all I have to do is gaze out the bedroom window across our east field and watch the goats playing. They face off, rare back, and butt each other, not hard enough to knock the wind out of a mosquito, but that doesn’t seem to be the point. They’re simply acting out their inherited dance, graceful and playful and full of mischief, and I never tire of watching.

We bought this place in the summer of 2001. My husband and I had sold our suburban home on just under an acre that we’d owned for 15 years. The day after the closing, we left for a two-month trip to France and Italy. (We’re not wealthy, just daring!)

It was there I got bit. On a visit to a small farm outside of an even smaller village somewhere in the Chianti region of Italy, I met Nora and her cashmere goats. They were magnificent. I had never encountered a cashmere goat before, except on a sweater, and was enthralled with their colors, their enormous, curvy horns, and their incredible hair.

Throughout Europe you find these little gems of farms. It is immediately obvious they are tended with character and love. In Italy we stayed in the middle of an olive orchard, and my husband spent a whole day picking olives (although that was hardly the point) with the property owner. Tree by tree they went, two men, 30 acres (it would take two weeks), each individual olive touched by hand to feel its ripeness, its health, its quality.

In France it was lavender. It was late October so the fields had long been harvested. I knocked on the door of the farmhouse, and a delightful woman was more than happy to open her small shop and show me her warehouse and distillery. My French is very bad and she spoke no English and we spent an amazing hour together. I learned that, to make quality lavender essential oil, you need to be happy. If you’re not, the lavender knows it and will not grow properly. The flower knows it and will not distill properly. The oil knows it and will not be pure.

We returned to the US and began looking for our new home. It now had some parameters: an art studio for my husband and enough land for me to raise cashmere goats, plant a few olive trees, and grow lavender.

We found it in Two Rock Valley in west Petaluma. A neglected 28 acres of grazing land, a rundown house, and a huge barn for my husband to paint in. After living in Sonoma County for 15 years, I think we had been to this part of the countryside maybe twice. Too bad. The undulating hills, the soft sky, the zillions of stars to look at, even the fog make this a landscape that slows you down.