Travel to the south of France without ever leaving Virginia

NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. (WFXR) — Imagine the sights and scents of the Mediterranean region, and more specifically the south of France, without ever leaving Virginia.

Virginia Gold Orchard hopes to make that vision a reality.

“The famous postcard that people see is of the Abbey at Senanque,” said Virginia Gold Orchard owner Thomas Vandiver. “It’s in the south of France; that beautiful church in the background with all the nice tight rows. we want to recreate that exact view here.”

Virginia Gold Orchard is one of many growing operations in Virginia expanding agritourism to increase cash flow against razor thin margins, and as a hedge against adverse factors like weather or disease. Planting fields of lavender is part of that plan.

Virginia Gold’s primary crop is Asian pears. The owners also own Ramulose Ridge Vineyards in Moneta, and they have a Ramulose Ridge tasting room at the orchard. Last year Virginia Gold planted and sold cut flowers to offset pear crop loss due to a late freeze. This year, lavender has been added to the mix.

“It’s going to allow us to create a really beautiful environment in this area,” said Vandiver motioning to an area that had been cleared and plowed. “In just a couple of months it’s going to be filled with crushed gravel and raised beds. that way when you walk you get that beautiful feel truly like you’ve gone to the south of France.”

Tiny juvenile lavender plants at Virginia Gold Orchard near Natural Bridge, Virginia (Photo: George Noleff)

Recreating the lavender fields of the south of France means Virginia Gold will have to recreate the growing conditions of the south of France. While the climate, warm and humid is a good match, the soil composition is not. Because of that, Vandiver will actually plant his fields in raised pots. That way he can control soil content and chemistry.

“It thrives on adversity,” Vandiver said. “If you give lavender too much water, too much fertilizer, if you give it that beautiful potting soil we pay top dollar for, you’ll kill it.”

What lavender prefers is rocky, dry soil. Vandiver has purchased a mix that Virginia Gold will use for its lavender crop. The plants are tiny, right now, and will be planted in the next month.

“These are our little babies that’ll be going out into the field soon,” said Vandiver as he walked through a greenhouse at the orchard. “They will eventually become a perennial crop once they’re established.

While growing and farming are still the primary focus, providing a unique experience is also key to profitability. Vandiver says good memories are among the crops Virginia Gold wants to cultivate.

“We want our customers to enjoy that country lifestyle; be able to take in the views, take in the smells, and really just relax.”

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