Business Briefs: August 2023

Lavender blooms at Orso Blu near Mint Springs. Photo: Dawn Cromer.

Lavender Fields Bloom Near Mint Springs

When Francesca Conte planted the first few rows of lavender on a rolling hillside near Crozet’s Mint Springs Park, she thought of her grandfather’s home in Sardinia. “There’s lavender everywhere in southern Italy,” she said. Born in Switzerland, Conte came to Charlottesville to pursue her Ph.D. in biochemistry at UVa more than 20 years ago. “We’d always loved Crozet and especially Mint Springs Park,” she said, so when there was a chance to buy a former peach orchard adjoining the park, she and her partner, James Russell Gill, left their place in Charlottesville and began rehabilitating the land that had been neglected for 50 years or so. She and Gill also own a company, Bad to the Bone Sports,” that directs sporting events all over the country, including the Charlottesville Marathon; they also work as property managers. 

Francesca Conte and James Russell Gill at their Orso Blu lavender farm. Submitted photo.

“We knew we wanted to keep it in agriculture,” she said, “and didn’t want to see someone else try to turn it into a subdivision.” They settled on a lavender operation and began clearing the brambles and brush that had overtaken the hillside.

She knew the humid Virginia weather and heavy clay were not ideal for the fragrant plants. “They’re Mediterranean,” she said, “and need a lot of drainage, dry air and loose, open soil.” To counteract these disadvantages, they amended the dense clay hillside with tons of garden soil and gravel, and chose varieties (she likes phenomenal, sensational, and royal velvet) that were better suited for Virginia than Sardinia. 

On the plus side, lavender is not appealing to deer, groundhogs or other critters, can be grown without a lot of pesticides, takes minimal maintenance and actually detoxifies the soil where it grows. It also withstands the high heat and drought that always make an appearance at some point in a Crozet summer, and it doesn’t require much in the way of up-front costs. The hillside also offers better air drainage than would a level meadow.

Almost three years later, the hillside at Orso Blu (Blue Bear) is home to a misty mass of blooming lavender plants, and thousands of bees. The bees (she said it looks like hundreds on each plant) inspired the couple to place a borrowed hive near the field, and they hope to have their own hives soon for lavender honey. They’re also restoring other fields, first cutting the brambles and invasive species to replace them with native grasses, trees and shrubs.  

They’re still figuring out the marketing, Conte said. “We can’t have hundreds of people coming and going. The area is rural and there’s not a lot of parking.” With a friend, she started a lavender exchange so those interested in buying large amounts of the flowers can have an American source, rather than relying on European markets for enough material for essential oils or fragrances. “I’ve sold about a third of the crop that way,” she said. The success of an open house in June showed her that a lot of people are curious about lavender, and she’ll open up her farm from time to time. There’s another open house planned for the fall.

Although she doesn’t want to focus on retail sales, Conte said she’s open to individual people who want to see the operation or buy some small amounts.

Jewelry and Paintings Featured in August Show at Artisan Depot

Crozet Artisan Depot will feature jeweler Rachel Dunn of Fork Union and painter Ellyn Wenzler of Spotsylvania as guest artists for August. The shows run from August 1 to 31 in the historic Crozet train depot. A “Meet the Artists” event is scheduled for Saturday, August 12, from 1 to 3 p.m. 

Rachel Dunn creates jewelry using natural gemstones, now displayed at the Crozet Artisan Depot. Submitted photo.

Rachel Dunn’s show is “Capturing Nature’s Beauty in Natural Gemstones.” Dunn creates jewelry using natural gemstones and fine metals. “Since 2018, the simple designs that we create focus on the unique beauty of the natural stone created by nature,” Dunn said.

Ellyn Wenzler’s exhibit presents “Chromatic Conversations.” Her paintings are bold, colorful abstract artwork done with acrylic paint. Her work is an exploration of color and texture, and Wenzler applies modeling paste medium to the canvas with palette knives for extra texture. 

Ellyn Wenzler’s work uses bold color and varied texture to invite closer examination of her work. Meet her and Rachel Dunn at the Artisan Depot August 12. Submitted photo.

“The pieced-together or collage-like look I create with palette knives invites the viewer in for closer examination to see if I’ve used paper or fabric or simply paint,” Wenzler said. “By arranging painted strips and shapes I create both scenic works and boldly colored abstractions.”

In the Basement…

The Basement, a small functional fitness gym, will open August 15 in the space where Newtown Fitness used to be in Piedmont Place. It’s now owned by Flannery Buchanan and Chelsea Powers of Bluebird & Company and will offer small classes, personal trainers and private gym time. To register go to, and choose The Basement or visit their website.

CroZeli Opens August 14

A new sandwich shop will open August 14, with many choices for a satisfying lunch, including enduring favorites like cheesesteak, muffuletta, Reuben and French dip. Find your favorite sandwich by visiting the CroZeli Sandwich Shop Facebook page, or stopping by between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. CroZeli is in the former space of Morsel Compass at Piedmont Place.

Biz Bits

A “maker’s market” has been popping up at Greenwood Gourmet, featuring the work of local artisans. The midsummer event was held at the end of July, and there will be another one in the fall. These events showcase the “Friends of Greenwood,” artists who often don’t have a retail outlet of their own. 

Bar Botanical will begin serving craft cocktails, beer and wine in August.

Bar Botanical opened in July, and owner Ryan Becklund said some crowd favorites are the gochu sliders and wonton nachos. Bar Botanical will serve craft cocktails, beer, wine and cider after it gets its ABC license in August.

3rd Generations Grill will open in the former E & J’s Deli Pub in Waynesboro. The grand opening is August 4 at 6 p.m. 

The Crozet Arts and Crafts Festival won second place for the best arts and crafts show in Blue Ridge Country magazine’s “Best of the Mountains” readers’ poll. The polling is done every five years. 

The local show also won honors from the readers of Virginia Living magazine, who gave it third place for Virginia art shows. 


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