Spend a day at Chapel Hill’s Lavender Oaks Farm

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Sunset during lavender season with the farm's historic barn. Photo courtesy of Lavender Oaks Farm.


When you arrive at Lavender Oaks Farm, you’ll be charmed before you ever step inside or begin to wander the grounds. The fields of lavender surrounding the historic barns beckon you to traipse down the rows and breathe in the fresh aroma. 

Robert and Karen Macdonald, known locally as “Mr. and Mrs. Lavender,” have prepared a special place for people to gather—be it for a picnic, a wedding, or simply to experience the lavender fields firsthand.


The Farm 

Located in Chapel Hill, Lavender Oaks Farm is a 60-acre farm with nine varieties of lavender. While lavender is not native to North Carolina originally, the Macdonalds chose these more heat-tolerant varieties to ensure their 4,000 lavender plants thrive, with more fields continuing to be replenished and added. 

Lavender has many uses, and is often found in lotions, soaps and tinctures. As part of the mint family, lavender can be sweet or savory when used in culinary pursuits. 

Interior of farm's historic barn decorated for a wedding reception. Photo courtesy of Lavender Oaks Farm.

“Really there’s no end to what you can include lavender in,” says owner Karen Macdonald. She recommends people focus on how lavender makes them feel—think about how it smells, how it looks, how it tastes and what they experience. 

Walking along the rows of lavender, visitors also come across cascade hops, which some local breweries use to make lavender beer. Another addition to the farm are the 1,000 Christmas trees recently planted to be grown and later sold in the coming years. 


The History

The Macdonalds haven’t always been lavender farmers. Karen grew up in California and spent some of her childhood helping in the fields her family owned. When traveling through Europe after college, she was inspired by the lavender fields, even extending her trip to visit France, where she enjoyed her first lavender lunch. 

After moving from California to North Carolina for Robert’s work in 1994, the Macdonalds lived in Cary for over two decades, raising their three children and working different careers before they decided to go all-in on this dream. They sold everything, moved into an apartment, and then purchased the wooded property in 2015.

After determining where the lavender would grow best on the land and preparing the fields, they completed their farm with the historic barns they now use for weddings and other events. The couple actually lives on the farm, too, their days encompassing everything they love to do between Robert’s background in engineering and business and Karen’s artistic vision and event-planning experience. 

“When you have a dream like this and you get to a certain age, and you decide you’re going to go for it—we like to say our motto is carpe diem. Just jump in both feet day one, and you’re off and running, but don’t look back!” says Macdonald. 

A couple getting married, walking through the lavender toward the main house. Photo courtesy of Arika Shelest.

The Experience 

A big part of the Macdonalds’ vision is to share the lavender farm with others. They open the fields to visitors, free of charge, on certain days of the week over the summer, when they aren’t holding ticketed or private events. 

The farm hosts garden clubs, educational events, field trips, homeschool groups and culinary lavender lunch-and-learn events, which incorporate some form of lavender into every course and drink, both sweet and savory. “It’s been so much fun to see people come out and experience eating lavender, because it’s a unique taste in that it enhances the food,” says Macdonald, who is working on a lavender cookbook full of family recipes. “It’s an earthy, floral note, similar to rosemary and mint.” 

Between 20 and 40 weddings are held at the farm each year, both outside in the fields and inside the picturesque historic barn, which can accommodate up to 250 guests. In the months leading up to the wedding, the bride and groom have plenty of opportunities to spend time at the farm, making the process all the more personal and significant. 

Lavender Oaks Farm owners Karen and Robert Macdonald. Photo courtesy of Lavender Oaks Farm.

Visiting the Farm

During lavender season, the fields are open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays between May and July. Opening day this year is May 28, but check the website and social media accounts for updated information and hours. 

If you pack a picnic, make sure to leave no trace. While pets are not allowed, people of all ages are welcome to come and enjoy the space. If you want to pick your own lavender, it’s $25 for 25 stems. Conclude your visit in the quaint boutique, where you can purchase everything from lavender jam and local honey to lavender lotions, body oil, mists and serums.

“We think that everybody should have the opportunity to experience lavender,” says Macdonald. “It’s very relaxing and calming, and we have a really terrific opportunity here to help others to come out and just have a relaxing moment.” 

For more information, visit lavenderoaks.farm or check out Lavender Oaks Farm on Facebook.  

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