A few years ago, Ed Rosen and his wife, Dolly, were looking for a country place for their retirement—hopefully one with enough suitable land for growing a little lavender. Soon, Rosen would be wrapping things up on Wall Street, where he served as a lawyer specializing in derivatives at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and he was happy to be abandoning his daily commutes from the New Jersey suburbs. “We looked at about 75 properties, and even had architectural drawings made,” says Rosen from the sitting room of the family’s Chester County farmhouse, whose foundations date back to the 1700s.
Ed showed his wife photos of the property. “I said, ‘Buy it—I don’t even need to see it first,’” Dolly says.
Four years later, Warwick Farm has been reimagined and revived by the Rosens and their four grown daughters. Located within the Thomas P. Bentley Nature Preserve along the South Branch of French Creek in northern Chester County, this impressive work in progress also involves the restoration of several structures. And while, climatewise, it can’t compete with the lavender fields of Provence in the South of France, its rural vistas and beds of aromatic flowers are breathtakingly beautiful.
“This plant, lavender, has somehow brought together our family, each with our own specialized interests.”
On a sunny February day, Rosen and his first and fourth daughters, Claire and Camille, offer an off-season tour of Warwick’s fields and buildings. A professional photographer who travels the world on assignment, Claire begins the tour at a farm store stocked with mostly lavender-scented items. In her dark-yellow sweater and billowing skirt topped by a hooded brown cape, Claire exudes an earthy sense of style that would’ve made Jane Austen proud. “This plant, lavender, has somehow brought together our family, each with our own specialized interests,” she says.
Claire is the farm’s creative director, in charge of planning events and hosting artists-in-residence. The second-oldest sibling, Lillie, is an educator involved in social work and has just returned from spending several weeks helping refugees get settled in this country. Next comes Charlotte, who holds yoga classes at the farm and is adept in Pilates instruction and pirouettes. Finally, there’s Camille, who had a brief career as a professional chef, an interest shared with her mother, Dolly, a food historian. She’s now working with plants in a nutritional capacity.
Above all, there’s lavender. “We have at least 16 lavender cultivars on the farm,” says Claire. “But there are more than 450 scattered around the world, including one native to Chester County.”
Claire explains this as she curates an array of waters, essential oils, salves, facial toners, bath salts, soaks, sachets, dried bouquets and bundles. “Lavender soap is in the planning stage,” she says, noting that products are available online and by appointment at the store. “All the lavender is grown, harvested and distilled at the farm,” she says.
The store is located in a huge old barn that gives one the feeling of being inside a monstrous whale—and it may be the largest bank barn in the county. It also holds smaller rooms and warrens, including a production area, Claire’s apartment and her art studio.
Camille joins us on a walk up the muddy farm road that connects the old stone farmhouse and barn with the hilltop fields, first stopping along the way at a greenhouse. We go inside the large facility, where farm worker Jonathan Hayes is meticulously watering multiple rows of small lavender plants, all potted individually. “There are about 2,500 plants here,” Hayes says.
Outside are the sprawling lavender fields, planted on gentle hilltop slopes in the shadows of a poplar-dominated new-growth forest. The rows are lovely in their precision.
“And another 3,600 in the barn.” Claire adds. “This area is not the natural environment for growing lavender.”
But it’s working—so far. Outside are the sprawling lavender fields, planted on gentle hilltop slopes in the shadows of a poplar-dominated new-growth forest. The rows are lovely in their precision. And though they’re dormant in winter, they look amazingly healthy. Even on this sunny day, the wind is fierce—perhaps not unlike the Mistral that blows down the Rhone Valley and into Provence. “We had to put up these walls to protect against the wind,” says Ed, noting the tall barrier fences.
Deer aren’t attracted to lavender, but a much smaller pest does cause headaches: ground-burrowing voles. “We’re trying all sorts of ways to control them,” Ed says, adding that, with any luck, there will be about 8,000 lavender plants soaking up the summer sun.
The tour continues past the tennis courts constructed by previous owners the Pugh family, an unused spring-fed swimming pool, a large kennel used for hunting dogs that’s now being converted to a farm shed, and what remains of Warwick Furnace itself. Located about 100 yards from the house, the impressive stone ruin is open to the public as a sort of open-space diorama of early industrialization.
Warwick Furnace was established in 1737 by Anna Nutt, the widow of Samuel Nutt, an English Quaker entrepreneur who’d previously constructed an ironworks at Coventry. It produced cannons and cannonballs for the rebels during the Revolutionary War, and Washington’s troops bivouacked there for a time. It was also a source of iron for the fabled Franklin stoves. With the advent of newer technology, the ironworks was closed in 1867, a century and a third after it first fired up its furnaces.
Back inside the family residence, Dolly has prepared tea with sandwiches and sweets. Through the years, she’s schooled herself and taken classes in food history. Hence her impressive collection of research volumes and cookbooks.
“At the height of lockdown in June of 2020, our fields exploded for the first time in a somewhat unexpected sea of purple lavender flowers,” Claire says. “We invited a small group of our friends and neighbors to come and help us hand-harvest lavender bundles. It was a beautiful and cathartic experience to be in the fields with our guests.”
The farmhouse is still undergoing renovations to mold it to the family’s multiple interests and activities. Architect John Milner, known for his work with historic structures, serves as a consultant. “Although we found the [other] structures in a neglected state, their beauty was still apparent, and we resolved to see to their preservation for the next generation,” Claire says.
It took some time for the family to make the transition from Jersey suburbs to farm. “At first, the girls were afraid to go from building to building at night,” says Ed.
But everyone has settled in. “I’ve always worked on restoration projects, even as a young man,” Ed says. “I’ve always had carpentry in my blood.”
That skill set, the lavender and a supportive family have proven to be a potent combination for this historic, yet still evolving, property.