Sister Act: Purple Hill Lavender Farm
How Emma Greasley and Jessica Ridding transformed the Creemore farm where they grew up into a lavender dream.
For sisters Emma Greasley and Jessica Ridding, lavender farming is a family affair. The duo grew up in a stately red brick Victorian house on a hilltop farm south of Creemore. Built in 1989 to replicate the Devon homestead where their late mother, Roberta “Bobby” Greasley, grew up, the house has loomed large in the sisters’ personal histories since Bobby’s death in 2000. As adults, they made regular visits to the 45-acre farm on holidays and weekends but yearned to find a way to spend more time there.
“We’re very attached to it,” says Jessica. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do with this property and share it with people?’ We had the romantic notion of a flower farm, but it seemed like a pipe dream.”
Emma dove into researching potential crops, then homed in on lavender because of its wellness properties. “It’s also beautiful,” says Jessica. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for wondering if the lush rows of purple plants in photos on their website and Instagram feed are stock images from the south of France. They are not.
Luckily their dad, a retired lawyer, was only too happy to see two portions of the fields east of the house tilled and planted. So in 2014, the pair jumped in with all four feet – more if you count spouses Spencer Ridding and Elliot Catton, their dad and his wife, Nadine Robbins, all of whom embraced the plan. The sisters decided to focus on six varieties of lavender: one French (‘Grosso’) and five English (‘Royal Velvet,’ ‘Purple Bouquet,’ ‘Melissa,’ ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Folgate’).
“We think of lavender as Mediterranean, but English lavender is a little hardier,” says Jessica of the proportions of each.
This point was driven home when their first planting of 3,000, which was set out during the fortuitously hot and dry summer of 2016, survived the first winter and thrived. The French varieties, however, did not weather the next winter well, so they will be replanted this spring and covered in burlap next winter. This farm may be an ode to life in England, but French lavender is key to the business model. It gives off much more of the precious essential oils that the pair will press this summer.
Along with bundles of fresh and dried stems, and classic sachets (filled lovingly by their dad as he watches soccer on TV), the pair used purchased oils last year to test the market for their handmade lavender products at Heirloom 142 in Creemore and the Flower Market on Queen Street West in Toronto. Customer favourites include a lavender and lilac goat milk cream.
“People loved the products we made. The number one question was when were we going to have an online store. We’re trying this year,” says Jessica, with 15-month-old Ava on her hip, as she shows me the two home office spaces her dad has ceded to product testing and storage.
Jessica and Spencer moved full time to Singhampton after Ava was born and Emma lives with Elliot in Squamish, B.C. Both women work remotely in public relations, frequently visiting offices in Toronto and Vancouver respectively. Emma comes home regularly, especially during the summer harvest season.
Their plans include transforming their late mother’s small horse barn into a store that will be open to the public. When customers can buy beauty products and lavender stems just steps away from the 9,000-plant lavender field, the sisters will have succeeded in letting the rest of us in on their dream.