Damali Lavender Farm &
Bed & Breakfast

Come to relax. Stay and be inspired.

By Judy Stafford

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A large, lumbering golden retriever aptly named Kahlua greets us as we turn into the driveway, parking himself right in our way. He’s very intrigued by our presence and welcomes us warmly to the Damali Lavender Farm and Bed and Breakfast, reminding us that it’s time to take a breath, slow down, and start to unwind before we go any further.

The rows of small rounded bushes and the tall wispy lines of the vineyard lead the way. Instantly, even in the last sleepy days of winter, the aroma of sweet lavender gently curls up and tickles our senses. The large, two-story farmhouse comes majestically into view on top of the hill, painted against a backdrop of a crystal, deep blue sky. Now we know why this part of the country is compared to Provence, the wine-rich region of southeastern France on the Mediterranean. The covered, white-pillared veranda immediately makes us feel like relaxing, so the Muskoka chairs are our first stop.

Off in the distance beckons Salt Spring Island and the ocean peaks out through the trees. It’s hard to imagine getting any work done around here with this view, but David and Marsha Stanley and their partner Alison Philp have done more than just work hard, they have manifested their dreams.

Less than four years ago, the first seeds of a lavender farm hadn’t even been sown in their minds when David and Marsha headed on a holiday to Washington State to take some time off and open themselves up to new adventures. Knowing they wanted to leave the stress of the mainland and return to their roots on the island, they started a three-year plan to change their lives. Well, fate had other ideas and waiting three years was not on the agenda. Amazingly, or synchronistically perhaps, things fell into place faster than they could have ever imagined.

A chat with their old friend Alison, who immediately shared their vision of moving to Cobble Hill, a chance drive-by past an old sheep farm that had recently been taken off the real estate market, David suddenly being offered an early retirement package and bingo, their vision sprouted.

And their timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Agritourism is the latest venture to hit the mainstream and will soon be the largest sector of tourism. First popular in Italy and Spain, now it’s hit North America with a vengeance. According to BC Agritourism, tourism in BC is a $9.2 billion industry and visitors are increasingly seeking nostalgic, rural experiences. People are becoming more interested in where their food comes from and they want to meet the farmers.

Well these new farmers, started with 600 lavender plants in 2004, and they now tend to five different varieties and 7500 plants in total. They also manage a fledgling vineyard, a small orchard, olive trees, a veggie garden, sheep, chickens, geese, and a recent adoption into their family—Chevy the wonder-jumping dog.

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They did downsize in one area, going from 30 sheep that came with the farm, to just three moms and three babies. “We sold some and ate some. Sheep aren’t the smartest animals, but we aren’t the smartest farmers either. We didn’t realize when we took down a row of fencing that would mean we couldn’t move them from the pasture to the barn very easily. One day, we herded them one by one with Alison holding open the door. With just one more to go, they saw the sliver of light through the crack and bolted, knocking Alison flat on her back,” Marsha laughs as she remembers.

“Then we had to start at one all over again,” explains David. “But, we have learned other things. We now know we need to add an extra foot to the top of our fences to keep the deer out. They walk right through the lavender to eat the tops off the vines.” Farming was never on their radar, but David grins like a schoolboy declaring that now he gets to drive a tractor.

Marsha quickly points out that after the first year, she and Alison decided that wasn’t fair. “So now we can drive it too. I’m not good with the bucket, but carrying things from here to there. I can do that.”

They’ve also learned that they can have a plan, but Mother Nature may have a different one. Where to place a field and where to move rocks doesn’t always work out as intended. Strategizing on where to move the abundance of boulders, renown in a place called Cobble Hill, turned into a job no one anticipated. “I’ve turned into a rock picker—when I plough the fields, I just grow more rocks,” says David.

“Yes we grow rocks really good!” laughs Martha.

Well you can’t eat those, but Alison explains, “We do grow enough vegetables to feed ourselves pretty much all year round. Even now we can usually find something green for a salad.”

They probably couldn’t have managed without fate also playing a hand in their stumbling upon the worker bees of the WWOOFers. An acronym for ‘Willing Workers on Organic Farms,’ folks worldwide travel to farms to work in exchange for room and board.

One afternoon, when Alison was working at her day job at Tourism Cowichan, she met up with a young Japanese man who was travelling the world by bicycle and on his way to Victoria. The longer they chatted, the later it got. Alison didn’t want to see him going over the Malahat in the dark, so she invited him to dinner. He stayed three months.

Since then, they’ve been blessed with a variety of farm helpers from young students to a 51 year-old woman from Calgary. They built proper living quarters and this season will be the third visit from one young man from Italy.

Marsha, also working fulltime off the farm, says, “I feel like I’m working seven days a week, and I am. But I love the physical work, the outdoors, the planting, and making our own products with the lavender. It’s a lot different than accounting. And we don’t need to ‘do’ gym memberships.”

And their Lavender Shop is bursting with the bounty of their hard work. From soaps, to bath salts, to hand lotions and face creams, to culinary lavender and seasonal fresh & dried flower bundles, to comfort bags and body scrubs—the list goes on and on. You can’t help but relax the minute you step inside and the magical fragrance of healing lavender takes over.

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But the true heart of the farm has to be the large, open-concept country kitchen/living area in the newly built farmhouse. The expansive windows and French doors, bring the glorious view right inside to meld with the warmth of the gold, green, yellow and cream décor. Complete with Mediterranean-style tiled flooring, a centerpiece island, a dining table, a deep, welcoming couch and several armchairs, a large screened TV, and a fabulous fireplace. You’d never have to leave this spot, ever.

Still hammering nails to hang pictures and putting up towel racks moments before – they welcomed their first guests last fall. Designed specifically with a bed and breakfast in mind, all three bedrooms are adorned with full ensuite baths, and little kitchen nooks with miniature sinks and fridges. The Lavender room, with a large, majestic bed covered with crisp white linens also boasts a magnificent view of the ocean from a plush window seat.

David, Marsha, and Alison are ready to inspire more visitors as they gear up for their first full summer with bookings already for August. They have farm activities planned on top of what can be done in the area: take a wine tour, go sightseeing for birds, sign up for a whale watching adventure, or play a round of golf. This July (2008), they’ll be hosting their first annual Lavenderfest. They’re also planning to participate in the Cowichan Valley Wine and Culinary Festival again in September. You can book your wedding here, come for a tour, browse the shop, or just walk the labyrinth. Check out their website for directions and contact information.

Damali: an acronym for their three names, David, Marsha and Alison, which in Arabic means, ‘beautiful vision’ is a vision indeed. Stop by for a visit, or a night, or even three months. Kahlua will be waiting to greet you at the end of the drive. You won’t be disappointed.

http://www.damali.ca