“My life is … eclectic,” said Melissa Broughton. “Bunnies, writing, lavender, and mental health work. And yet, it really all makes crazy, amazing sense.” | Credit: Chelsea Lyon-Hayden

By day, Melissa Broughton works for the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, managing two dozen school-based therapists. By night and weekends, she’s the Lavender Lady, or the Bunny Lady, depending on who you talk to.

Broughton recently published her second children’s book illustrated by Santa Barbara artist Mary Harrison. The first, Sleepy Bunny, is the true story about her pet Amos, who liked to eat lavender and take extremely long naps. (Parents appreciated the subtle messaging to enjoy naptime.) Bunny Colors, now available at Chaucer’s Bookstore along with lavender-filled sachets, is a fun lesson in vocabulary and, of course, colors that was inspired in part by Broughton’s new big-eared pal, Leo.

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Leo was a rescue from BUNS (Bunnies Urgently Needing Shelter) who’d had a rough go of it. He was missing a chunk from one ear and needed surgery to remove all of his overgrown teeth. “And yet, he’s okay,” Broughton said. “I thought he represented kids who may be picked on for various reasons, and that he could be a character to model good behavior in recognizing and appreciating differences.”

Broughton lets bundles of lavender hang and dry for months before separating the petals from the stems.

Leo, Broughton, and the lavender she grows all have something in common ― they’re remarkably tough. Broughton grew up the daughter of a small-town rancher in Colorado who struggled for years with severe alcoholism, and the 200 lavender bushes she tends to at Robert Rae Ranch in Buellton are just as strong and hardy. “I think I relate to the properties of lavender and its resiliency,” she said. “That’s why I love it so much.”

With her harvest, and as a licensed esthetician, Broughton makes oils, soaps, hand sanitizer, and other pleasant-smelling things. She sells them at the Route One Farmers Market in Vandenberg Village every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and she intentionally keeps her price points low so everyone can experience her products. Broughton appreciates the small-town friendliness of the North County community, especially her regular customers. “I love them to pieces,” she said. One recently brought her their meatloaf recipe.

As a relative newcomer to the agricultural art of lavender growing, Broughton is still experimenting with her technique. She’s narrowing down the best times to harvest, the most efficient way to distill, the right conditions for drying, and so on. Each batch is meticulously documented in a log book. But she’s not in it for the money. She just likes seeing people’s faces light up when they breathe in the health-giving scent. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, she’s even started handing out small satchels for free just to brighten people’s days. “It’s instant joy,” she said. “It’s like I’m giving away money or something.” 

A bin full of dried petals will be turned into oil, soaps, and other goodies.

Follow Broughton on Instagram at @lavender_naps and @thelavenderproject2020.

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