designed for the way women work.
It’s hard to put down roots when you’re a military family that moves every couple of years. But that didn’t stop Tagen Towsley Baker from searching for a sense of community in each town or base she and her husband relocated to.
Growing lavender has helped her find that community, and adopting her 14-year-old daughter Mila from an orphanage in China 3 years ago has added a sweetness to the endeavor she never thought possible.
On Mother’s Day Mila and Tagen make lavender sachets “to celebrate ‘us’,” says Tagen. “Mother’s Day was a difficult holiday for both of us before, and we want to think about others who are less fortunate than we are.” They sold the sachets to raise funds for the orphanage where Mila came from in China.
Tagen is not the first person to find meaning in flowers. In traditional flower symbology lavender represents purity and grace, but for Tagen it represents resiliency and adaptability. “Lavender is like a military family. It adapts and blooms and is happy wherever it needs to be,” says Tagen, whose husband is part of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Force. Tagen knows this about lavender firsthand, since she has uprooted her lavender farm and replanted it in every town that her military family has relocated to.
Whether she chose lavender or lavender chose her, it’s hard to tell. It all started 5 years ago.
She was living in Logan, Utah where her husband was studying at Utah State as part of the Air Force. He was also working at a lavender farm, and she was helping sell the lavender at the farmers market. She started experimenting with making tea and sachets.
When they moved with the Air Force to northern California they bought a small farm and started growing lavender, about 200 plants, on an acre of land. Other military wives would come out and help with the harvest and soon she found that growing lavender provided an opportunity to connect with people.
They began saving and eventually raised enough money selling lavender to pay for the adoption of their daughter Mila from China in 2019. Mila was 11 years old.
Since Mila entered their lives she and Tagen have bonded through the process of growing lavender and harvesting together. “It keeps me and Mila peaceful inside to have a garden and flowers,” says Tagen. She describes the world her daughter came from in the orphanage as one devoid of nature.
In 2020 the family sold their farm and moved to the base for a year, uprooting the lavender as they went. They brought about 30 plants up to Tagen’s family homestead in the mountains of Idaho for safekeeping because they didn’t know where they would be stationed next. The lavender adapted, moving as it did from the Sacramento Valley, with temperatures regularly above 100, to the 7,000-foot elevation in the mountains, where the growing season is short and it’s not unheard of to get snow in July. Mila, Tagen and her husband adapted to change too.
Tagen felt the lavender plants were in good hands. “My mother is an incredible gardener with a great knowledge of plants, birds and local wildlife,” says Tagen.
They moved to Lompoc, California in May 2021, just outside the Space Force base. Some of the “mother” lavender plants, as she calls them, were dug up from the garden in Idaho and replanted in the arid climate of southern California. Most of them have survived, but this move was Tagen’s toughest. “When we moved into our house there was nothing growing. No garden, no colors, no birds or pollinators,” says Tagen. In the coastal town of Lompoc they live in a micro climate where temperatures range from 62-72 degrees year round. Mornings are foggy and the sun doesn’t break through until 10:30 or 11:00 am.
Her lavender doesn’t go dormant but some of her favorite varieties, such as French lavender, bloom just once a year, in July. That’s when Womanswork’s photos of Tagen and Mila were taken for our catalog.
Tagen and Mila immediately started working on developing a community in their new home, where they expect to stay for only another year or two before being stationed elsewhere.
When the lavender was ready for harvest, they invited other military wives to help. Mothers brought their babies, and they all had breakfast together, exchanging stories and learning about each other’s lives.
This year they sold lavender gift boxes to raise funds for hygiene kits for Convoy of Hope for Ukraine refugees.
On Veterans Day they make zucchini or pumpkin bread, garnishing it with a sprig of lavender, and deliver to people in their neighborhood, where many veterans live, thanking them for their service.
Tagen sells her lavender products on a website called Spouse-ly.com, an online resource for goods and services created by military spouses. Womanswork is planning giveaways of some of the products Tagen and Mila make. We’ll announce them in our “Curious Gardener” newsletter and in social media throughout the coming year.
Tagen’s Tips on Growing Lavender:
- Lavender prefers well drained/sandy soil.
- Once plants are established, even in hot climates, lavender will thrive with one deep watering session a week.
- Plant lavender in full sun locations.
- If you grow lavender in a pot, place it in a location where it will receive full sun. Place rocks in the bottom of the pot to help the soil drain. Do not overwater lavender in pots/containers.
- In a humid climate where soil will stay damp longer, do not soak the lavender root ball before planting.
How Tagen Transplants Lavender:
- When Tagen moved her plants from Idaho to Lompoc, California she dug up the Mother plants with a substantial root ball.
- She put them in Tupperware bins with soil.
- She put garbage bags over the tops to protect them from the wind while making the 13 hour drive. (They even got snowed on! It was in May.)
Photos taken by Amber Harbour in Lompoc, CA.