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Lavender life blossoms

How one couple transformed a run-down cattle farm into a lavender oasis


BY MOLLY HAINES RIDDLE

Sweet Owen Editor


CHRISTINE AND DWAYNE GOUGE, owners of Heavenly Ridge Lavender Farm located on Old Monterey Road in Owen County, are both chemists by trade, with decades-long careers at Procter & Gamble. The couple use the knowledge and experience gained from their respective careers to experiment with various lavender varieties cultivated on the farm. — Photo by Molly Haines Riddle, Sweet Owen Editor

Dwayne and Christine Gouge have traded their corporate careers at Procter & Gamble for the serene life of lavender farming on Old Monterey Road in Owen County. Their picturesque farm represents a unique blend of scientific knowledge and agricultural passion.

For decades, the Gouges—both chemists by trade—worked at Procter & Gamble, with Christine specializing in the study of perfume and Dwayne as a senior researcher. While Dwayne continues his employment with the company, Christine retired in December 2023 after 28 years. Their professional experiences led them to seek a new life chapter—one that would allow them to use their skills in a different context. They found this opportunity in a local cattle farm, which they purchased in late 2020. 

"When we bought it, people told us we didn't want that farm because it was nothing but rock," Christine recalls. However, they soon discovered that lavender thrives in rocky soil due to better drainage. The couple loved the view from the barn despite its initial overgrown state. Over the past three years, they have meticulously cleaned and transformed the farm into a vibrant lavender haven.

The farm, which the couple aptly named Heavenly Ridge Lavender Farm, now boasts several lavender varieties, each with unique characteristics. Visitors can pick from Edelweiss, which is white and reminiscent of the flower from "The Sound of Music," and Phenomenal, a more traditional lavender color. 

The farm features around 600 plants in total, with plans to add 300 more and introduce three new varieties. The English lavenders, their culinary lavender, started blooming in early June. The intermediates, such as Edelweiss and Phenomenal, bloom a bit later, around mid-June.

Christine explains the meticulous process of harvesting: "We aim to catch the blooms when about 20 to 30 percent have budded. This is crucial for obtaining the best buds for our various products."

The English lavender, or Angustifolia, have shorter stems and form smaller bushes, which makes them ideal for culinary uses and allows for denser planting. Intermediates, with their longer stems and different scent profiles, are harvested for a range of products, including essential oils and hydrosols.

Running a lavender farm is not without its challenges. For instance, the couple has faced significant issues with some varieties, such as Grosso, which struggles with the humidity and rain typical of Kentucky. They are experimenting with other varieties like Riverina Thomas that are more resilient to local conditions.

Their scientific backgrounds have been invaluable. Christine's expertise in perfume analysis and Dwayne's chemistry knowledge help them understand the plants and their needs. 

Christine explains, "We pay close attention to the different characteristics of each lavender variety. For example, Augusta folias are smaller bushes with short stems and are excellent for culinary uses. Intermediates have longer stems and different scent profiles, which we consider when deciding how to use them."

Heavenly Ridge Lavender Farm offers a wide variety of products derived from their lavender harvests. These include fresh lavender bundles, sachets, and wreaths. The couple has also ventured into creating their own line of bath and body products such as soaps, lotions, and salves. Christine mentions that while bath bombs have not sold well, they are optimistic about introducing shower steamers, which they believe might appeal more to their customers. 

The Gouge's lavender farm has quickly become a beloved part of the local community. Their first season, though challenging due to frequent rain, was met with enthusiastic support. Despite the weather, many visitors braved the conditions to walk through the fields and take photos.

The couple's efforts to integrate into the community are extensive. They offer photography sessions with local photographers, provide lunches prepared by local caterers, and host yoga sessions. Christine emphasizes their community involvement, "Our goal is to make the farm a part of the community, reaching out and offering various programs and services." They plan to engage with local high schools on propagation and distillation projects and invite senior centers to bring groups for visits.

Looking ahead, the Gouges have ambitious plans for their farm. They aim to expand to 10,000 plants and bring all their soap-making in-house, introducing new products like hydrosol, an antimicrobial floral water, and salves. They also plan to offer educational classes, such as soap-making workshops, to further engage visitors. "We want people to not just visit but also learn and take something home with them. Whether it's a bar of soap they made themselves or a bundle of fresh lavender, we want the experience to be memorable," Christine says.

The couple's scientific backgrounds contribute significantly to their farming practices. Christine's extensive experience in perfume analysis involved breaking down scents into their individual components, which she applies to understanding the different scent profiles of their lavender varieties. Dwayne's chemistry expertise aids in the overall maintenance and cultivation processes, ensuring that the plants thrive despite the region's challenging weather conditions.

The journey from corporate careers to lavender farming has been transformative for Dwayne and Christine Gouge. They have combined their professional expertise with a deep love for the land, creating a space that is as scientifically sound as it is beautiful and welcoming. Their lavender farm in Owen County is more than just a business; it's a community hub, a place of learning, and a testament to the power of following one's passion.

In their words, "We didn't want to just buy property; we wanted to do something meaningful with it. Lavender farming allows us to use our skills in a new way, engage with the community, and create something beautiful and sustainable." Their dedication and vision have not only transformed an old cattle farm into a thriving lavender paradise but have also enriched the lives of those who visit and become part of their journey.

Heavenly Ridge Lavender Farm is located at 1410 Old Monterey Road, Owenton, KY 40359. For more information, including hours of operation, find @HeavenlyRidgeLavenderFarm on Facebook.

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