did you know that texas has a lavender capital? neither did i, until i heard about the blanco lavender days. located approximately 50 miles southwest of austin, it took me about three hours (not far by texas driving standards) to get to the heart of lavender country, and blanco’s fifth annual lavender festival. it was all a hustle and bustle around the town square, where artisans offered their wares and gourmet food and beverage vendors tempted passersby. since i was unable to find parking nearby, i opted for the six lavender farm tours, the real showcase of the festival and the primary reason for my trip.
the first farm i visited was miller creek lavender:
this 3.5 acre farm was started in the fall of 2005 by karen and don roets. you can read a nice article that tells their story here. the varieties grown include provence, grosso, alba, sweet, spanish and angustifolia.
miller creek has a small market on site where they offer bath and body products, specialty food items (like lavender margarita mix…), and pottery. they also had a few tents set up for the festival for a few local artisans.
my second farm tour of the day was at hill country lavender, texas’ first commercial lavender farm:
this farm was established in 1999 by jeannie ralston (a magazine writer from ny, and author of the unlikely lavender queen) and husband robb kendrick (photographer for national geographic). he got the idea to try lavender farming while on assignment in provence, france (click on previous link to see one of his images), as the soil conditions were quite similar to those of hill country. you can read more of their story here. the farm is now owned by blanco native tasha brieger, who grew up working with jeannie and robb, and has added her expertise in graphic design toward marketing the product line they now offer. i picked up a bag of dried lavender buds, lavender oil and bug b gone (a mixture of water, lavender, tea tree, citronella, lemongrass, eucalyptus, lemon and peppermint essential oils)… to say the least, my car smelled soooooo good as hot as it was that day…
you could say that hill country lavender was the instigator of this festival, as robb and jeannie’s succesful harvests encouraged others to consider growing lavender in the area, helping to make blanco the lavender capital it’s now known for.
the third farm tour of the day was at the blanco river lavender company. established in 2005 on the family’s century farmstead, stephen and kennie smith now grow 30 lavender varieties, and tend approximately 3000 plants.
i was surprised to see a rainwater harvesting booth set up under the farm’s old oak trees. it looked oddly familiar, as the brazos county master gardeners held a seminar back in february demonstrating the same equipment… turns out billy kniffen, a water resource managment specialist (tx agrilife extension) and the person who presented the lecture is a friend of stephen and kennie, and was there to explain their rainwater harvesting system for the house (they don’t use it for irrigating the lavender, but would like to eventually). billy gave me the tour of their setup, an impressive yet simple system:
the farm was also giving tours of the nearby blanco riverbed, which due to its very dry conditions, reveals tracks of the pleurocoelus dinosaur (naturally, the official dinosaur of texas… how many states do you know with one?)! unfortunately, i missed that tour because i was talking about water, a precious resource in an area that gets an annual rainfall of 34 inches per year when not in a drought as it currently is…
the forth tour of the day was to texas lavender hills, a 26 acre farm established in 2004 by fourth-generation farmers jill and doak hunter.
talk about a destination… the views of the surrounding hillside were incredible. i could see how the owners envisioned a successful lavender orchard here… and why martha stewart living featured this farm in their 2007 november magazine (“a hill country thanksgiving”). under the dappled shade of oak trees, jill and doak gave a brief presentation on the history of the farm and the seven varieties they grow (provence, hidcote, hidcote giant, maillette, twickle purple, grosso and fred boutin – 4,600 plants in all). they spoke about their organic cultivation practices and installation of drip irrigation. they have also investigated ways to increase use of the site, establishing a retail market on site to showcase farm-inspired products, and installing a limestone walkway with a rustic juniper pergola and hillside overlook to host events such as weddings and concerts.
isn’t it lovely? this could all be yours… because it’s for sale! the hunters have fraternal twins, and they are at the age where they need to be closer to conveniences of the city… if only i had the funds for such an adventure…! i can only hope that whoever scoops this up continues on with the good efforts the hunters have poured into it…
the fifth farm tour of the day was at heron’s nest herb farm, established in 1995 by fred and melanie van aken:
you can read more about their story here. i fell in love with this farm… something about it was just different from the others. plants were in raised beds contained by local limestone; companion plants, such as Verbascum (mullein) and Echinacea (coneflower) were intermixed with the lavender plants; the beds were mulched with pine needles; sculpture and artwork were integrated into the gardens. it was horticulturally diverse and personally peaceful.
awaiting inside the sweet greenhouse cottage (my description of it) was a dirt floor with potting benches filled with cacti and succulents, a wood stove, a fabric-draped ceiling with fan to cool in the summer, a contained pond with goldfish swimming around, a quilted lounger, and natural chotchkies here and there… with gardens right outside the door.
but we’re on a lavender tour, i digress… fred and melanie’s favorite varieties of Lavandula to grow include provence (vera and goodwin creek), munstead and blue hidcote. they also grow Echinacea (pupurea and angustifolia) and make tinctures from its rhizomes. tasha, the new owner of hill country lavender, calls fred the plant doctor, because he seems to know everything about growing lavender and improving its harvest. fred and melanie advocate organic cultural practices by amending the soil with compost, planting in raised beds, harvesting rainwater, irrigating via drip tapes powered by a solar pump, and utilizing biological controls for pest and disease. best of all, they offer classes to those that are interested and willing to take a road trip to visit them. there’s even a geocache there, but that’s another story… the van akens are big supporters of the lavender festival, so seek them out, you won’t be disappointed.
the sixth and final tour of the day was wimberley lavender farm, owned by karen and o’neil provost. i pulled up with only a few minutes left in the tour day schedule, quickly checked out their market offerings and headed straight for the fields:
karen and o’neil primarily grow the provence variety for its oil and fragrance quality, but also grow grosso, buena vista, munstead, twickle purple, alba and spanish.
the most fun and unique part of their farm is the labyrinth they’ve planted (with over 500 lavender plants) for visitors to walk through:
it took me a good ten minutes or so to walk the entire course, stopping occasionally to take in the reason for my trip. i found that every farm was unique, and each farmer enthusiastic and dedicated, regardless if they had a background in horticulture, agriculture or business. they depended on the knowledge base and resources of their community to bring a new, and yet not so new, industry to their area. the festival is a celebration of that effort, bringing thousands of people to see and enjoy another aspect of hill country. it was well worth the trip and i recommend you consider attending next year’s lavender days and festival in blanco.