Heaven scent

Fifth annual Tuscan Heights festival celebrates everything lavender

Lynette Gooch has turned a love of gardening into a full-time effort. Her lavender garden is now a North State attraction.

Lynette Gooch has turned a love of gardening into a full-time effort. Her lavender garden is now a North State attraction.

Photo By Jennifer Jewell

The North State is known for its farms. And the fact is, some farming smells better than others.

Like all farmers, Lynette Gooch, her husband, Richard, and their teenage son Justin work very hard—up early and to bed late, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Even when they call it a night, they think about the farm they call home.

And they smell it.

The warm, sweet-sagey, famously calming scent of more than 25,000 lavender plants fills the air night and day on their precisely laid-out, lovingly tended foothills farm, Tuscan Heights Lavender Gardens in Whitmore, about 30 minutes northeast of Redding.

“Lavender smells clean,” Lynette Gooch said. “To be dirty all day and still smell that clean, fresh scent—it’s happiness.”

Gooch is the driving force behind Tuscan Heights. If her hands aren’t in the dirt, on her plants or cooking up something tasty from those same plants, then they’re in the air gesturing descriptively as she explains something to visitors—how she waters or prunes each of her 207 different varieties of lavender or how she distills the essential oils from her plants.

Born Lynette Pisano, Gooch has fond memories of her big, festive, Italian-family upbringing in Calaveras County.

“We had a big home garden, and my father loved it,” she said. “I can remember the taste of summer vegetables from the garden, the smell of working in the garden. We all helped, but I am the only one of us five kids who grew into a gardener. It’s in my blood.”

Gooch regularly leads tours around Tuscan Heights, her face flushed a healthy bronze from hours in the sun and her figure athletic from many hours of physical labor.

Tuscan Heights is situated in a shallow canyon. As you drive in, 4 1/2 acres of gently rolling hillsides blanketed with many shades of lavender spread out before you, and to both sides. Steeper, rocky hillsides rise behind the farm. A generously sized, enclosed herb garden with scented geraniums blooming in pinks and reds sits adjacent to the farmhouse, and behind it, another 4 1/2 acres of the straight green lines of Tuscan Heights’ vineyard unfurls.

Walking the land, you could be in the famed Provence region of France, or in Tuscany—Tuscan Heights’ namesake region in Italy—but instead you are in the northern foothills of the Central Valley. This piece of land did not look this way when the Gooches bought it.

Gooch’s massive lavender garden started with just 25 plants in 2003.

Photo By Jennifer Jewell

Looking to relocate from Roseville in the late 1990s, Lynette and Richard drove around Shasta County looking for just the right combination of agricultural lifestyle and affordable acreage. They almost gave up.

“We were about to leave and head home when Richard by chance picked up a local discount classified paper and happened to read about land in Whitmore,” offered Lynette. “We didn’t even know where it was, but when we drove up, got out and looked around, I took a deep breath, felt the gravelly loam and knew. I said, ‘Let’s write the check.’”

Beyond knowing they wanted to live there, they had no idea what they would do with the land.

The rocky hillside land was overgrown with poison oak, manzanita and blackberry, which took over after the Fern Fire of the 1980s had cleared the whole area. It wasn’t until late in the fall of 2002, when the house was framed and the first round of clearing was complete, that Gooch began thinking about a garden.

For a border near the house, she planted 25 lavender plants, and by mid-summer 2003, was deeply in love with the look, smell, and naturally tidy, mounding habit of lavender. Originally native to the Mediterranean, lavender is perfectly suited to Tuscan Heights’ soil, sloping site and 2,300-foot elevation, as well as the North State’s hot, dry summers.

Any farmer will tell you that farming is rarely done for riches, but rather for sheer love of the task and the independent and land-based life of a farmer. If the hard work doesn’t kill your ambition, then the instability of crops, weather, pests and market prices might.

The Gooches had love of their work on their side. They spent much of 2003 laying out and planting the first of their lavender fields. By 2006, they opened the display gardens to the public and began hosting their annual Lavender Festival on the certified naturally grown, Shasta County-registered, organic and solar-powered property in late June.

This year’s festival, their fifth annual, will take place June 26.

If the farming harks back to her childhood family garden, it is their summer lavender festival that brings in the rest of Gooch’s large Italian family childhood—the food, the wine, the happy noise and the festive sense of gathering together to eat and celebrate the land.

The feeling of the festival takes Gooch back to childhood Christmases.

“It would be our family with five kids and each of my father’s five brothers with their wives and kids at my Pisano grandparents’ home—those gatherings are my grandest childhood memories,” she recalled.

The festival is the ideal showcase for the culinary side of Gooch’s passion. From the first summer, Gooch began experimenting with lavender in her cooking. Eventually Tuscan Heights Lavender Gardens had its own line of pantry products such as infused teas, instant lemonade, lavender-infused honey and scone mixes.

“This year we also have lavender-infused, handmade artisan marshmallows,” Gooch said. There will also be local wine tastings—including Gooch’s lavender-infused wine—and music.