Lavender Lady Jo Waltz – Brings Provence Home.
An invitation rang out from daughter Casey to her Mom Jo Waltz six years ago,
“You have to come visit and see the purple fields in Provence!”
Jo Waltz received the invite with delight. Her daughter was enjoying life in Paris, France, as part of her college education with a semester abroad and Jo did not have to be asked twice. As an educator who is today semi-retired from her profession, the summer season was the perfect time for Jo to travel while school was out. The combined opportunity to spend time with their daughter Casey and the chance to enjoy the world-renowned splendor of the lavender fields of Provence, France was a temptation she and husband Charles could not resist.
“That was the beginning of it all,” explained Jo, “I fell in love with those fields of lavender, and when I returned home and looked at my three lavender plants in the garden I decided to explore varieties of lavender and look into starting a lavender farm. My husband and I bought a 7-acre plot of land with a brook running through it in East Amwell Township, close to my home in Ringoes, New Jersey, and began planting lavender in earnest. Today we have over 500 plants. But it has not been easy.”
The pretty brook that runs through the property divides the land into a 3-acre plot to one side that Jo determined was best for planting lavender. She set about working with ‘plugs’ for planting and developed her farm from 75 plants to today’s 500 plus, working diligently alone to water and care for the youngstock, and later harvesting their delightful stems and seeds. Jo also added two pretty gardens of cutting flowers that include poppies and many other species.
Jo then marketed products that she created such as artisan wreath and flower decorations and sachets of lavender at local farmer’s markets. At one time attending as many as five different market locations on a regular basis throughout the Summer and Fall. An arduous task that she has since pulled back to just one, the Princeton Farmer’s Market that runs every other Thursday from May to November, where you can find her at her stand, Lavender and Sugar – On the Brook – Ringoes.
“It became insane trying to do everything on my own. I would harvest the lavender, then lug all those stems back to my home in Ringoes and look for places to hang the stems to dry. I used every square inch of my home to do it. The basement, the bathroom etc. wherever there was a spot I could hang a line and hang the cuttings. That was when I decided I needed to do something about having a space on the farm to manage the process.” Jo explained that initially their intent after purchasing the 7-acre property was to build a carriage house on the site, with an apartment above and a space below for the lavender production and possibly a shop from which to market the wares.
“Sadly, despite our efforts that was not possible. I looked around for the best options and researched everything I could find very thoroughly. When I came across Stoltzfus Structures I knew I had found the right solution and contacted the company. Their Amish products and work are impeccable and Mark Zook, one of the company owners, answered all my questions with such patience.
You just don’t get that kind of service anymore. He was willing to hold my hand throughout the process of design and drafting the structure just the way I wanted it. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of emails that went back and forth through the process, instigated by my needs and the issues that arose with my local council with zoning , ordinance, and license restrictions. In the end as I could not get the permissions needed, we had to shelve the entire project. Mark was so understanding, and he went out of his way to help me in every way possible. I am very grateful to him.”
Jo profoundly felt the disappointment of not being able to build the carriage house. It left Jo with no structure in which to work and no place to put her tools, store her lavender for drying out or conduct her business. But this upset was not the only bump in the road Jo had to deal with as in 2021 a big storm pushed through New Jersey and caused another problem. It flooded out the farm washing out over 100 of the 500 carefully nurtured plants and caused much damage and destruction to the property.
“It was devastating,” said Jo. “I had worked so hard to tame the gnarly, jungle like property from the outset and to tidy it up to make it into something wonderful. I had planted all these wonderful young plants and cared for them through the drought. Despite having no running water and having to literally drive water in 5-gallon buckets from my home to the farm to water them to keep them going. Then we had this deluge of flooding that washed out the soils and plants, our forest of trees was ripped and torn to shreds on the other side of the brook and the small bridge we used to drive over between the two sides was washed out and unsafe for my car and I could only traverse the property with a tractor.”
Jo reflected on the property when they found it as reminding her of the scenes in the Natalie Babbitt book, “Tuck Everlasting.”
“It is one of my favorite books and the images are so magical. Our farm had a similar look to it. I was determined to build it back again after the storm damage. We cleared the downed trees and did a major tidy up, but it took time and a lot of work. We now have piles of wood that we have harvested from the downed trees, and the farm is really coming along. But even after the storm we realized that whether or not we ever got to build a ‘house house,’ on the hill or add other buildings to the property we needed to find a solution to storage and workspace now. That was when I reached out to Mark Zook again. I had visited their Stoltzfus lot and seen all the wonderful sheds and other buildings they offer. For a start I needed a shed to house the firewood, so we began there. I purchased a 6’ x 8’ firewood shed and then also we worked together on a custom designed 9’ x 11’ garden elite shed for my lavender drying and production, a 6’ x 7’ shed for my tools and recently I bought a 6’ x 8’ greenhouse, which I have at my home in Ringoes and where I am starting my seedlings and grafts this year.”
Jo was very thankful for Mark Zook’s help with the new project.
“Another barrage of emails and questions ensued, and Mark has that all important big “P”, patience. He helped me with ideas and suggestions, listened to my needs and wants, and I am thoroughly happy with the result.”
Jo explained that her design of the farm is based on her passion, not as expected for the rolling hills of Provence, France, but of a British region.
“I am a Cotswoldian at heart,” said Jo. Her beautifully designed pathways, gates and gardens certainly reflect the best of the region. The Cotswolds is one of the most ‘quintessentially English’ and unspoiled regions of England where you cannot help but fall in love with the uniqueness of it.
When asked about how the delivery process was completed for the matching and beautifully designed ‘Cotswoldian” style sheds it was clear that the property had dished out its own difficulties when it came to receiving the new builds.
“The delivery team showed such professionalism. In order to place the sheds where I wanted them to live, the sheds needed to traverse bumpy ground and be moved under and around existing trees that we did not want to fell or remove. Bear in mind we have over 190 maple trees on the property that we also use, tapping for sugar, plus a fabulous 250-year-old Swamp Oak tree that we are custodians of and take the protection of the woodland very seriously.
The roof on one shed had to be entirely removed for the adventure, and then reinstalled. The team took this all in their stride. Not a second was wasted. I was blown away by how they worked together in concert, like an orchestra. It was amazing. There was no hesitation. It was effortless and painless and such fun to watch.
The team use a ‘mule’ to move the sheds, and it is a part of their service that I much appreciated. Other companies I had contacted had suggested they could deliver the sheds, but stated they would need to leave them on the roadside. They would not attempt to access the property. Not the Stoltzfus team, they were simply amazing. A can do, no fuss attitude and workmanship you just don’t see any more.”
Jo is also appreciative that the company is prepared to come back if needed later, to move the sheds elsewhere should it be necessary if they ever decide to build the ‘house house’ on the hill, as where the sheds are presently situated would be hinder access.
When asked how the water problem has been solved Jo explained that she has put her creative talents to work, by having potable water dropped off in containers and also collecting water off the roofs of the sheds in barrels to use for watering the plants in addition to the brook when it is flowing.
“Lavender farming is still a ton of work, but it is getting easier to manage the farm bit by bit. Now I have the sheds I have added bamboo sticks across the highest point inside to dry my plants. I don’t have to worry about storing my tools on site and have room to work inside the main shed. When people stop by at the farm they always remark on how beautiful the sheds are made, and how lovely they look.”
In addition to producing the sachets, wreaths, and flower arrangements with lavender, poppies, sunflowers and many more species, Jo Waltz is also an avid watercolor artist. She markets her works at her farm stand, and her creative talents are evident in her paintings that offer both romanticism and humor in their content.
Jo explained the future development for Moon Over Lavender and Sugar is yet to be decided but added with a smile.
“One thing for sure, if I need anything else building wise I will definitely be back to Mark and his team at Stoltzfus Structures. I would love to add a pavilion or pergola at some point, but who knows what the future holds for the farm. Whatever it is, it is great to have the support and help of Stoltzfus Structures at my side.”Explore our Prefab Greenhouses – Get Growing HERE