Head for the Lavender Hills
When I was growing up in the 1950s, the most exotic prize my bridge-playing mother could bring home was a bar of Yardley of London English Lavender Soap. Perhaps you remember the delicately-colored box with the 18th Century-style painting. Yardley’s was special and, in a small Texas town, rare.
A few years later, just out of college, I marveled at a shop in Norwich, England, where dark-wood drawers offered lavender by the scoopful—the scoopful!—its dusky, alluring scent permeating the air. I still have the hand-painted pomander ball I bought there, but once the flower buds’ fragrance faded, I had no way to refresh it. For years, the souvenir stayed buried in a dresser drawer, a fond memento only, no longer sweetly scenting anything. Where in South Texas could I have found lavender to replenish my little bauble? In a word, nowhere.
Of course, all that has changed. These days, bath-and-body shops (imagine!), natural-food stores, specialty boutiques, even local groceries and drugstores, make lavender available in many forms—soaps, sachets, candles, buds- in-bulk, eye pillows, essential oil, you-name- it. But up until recently, it’s mostly all been “foreign”-made—meaning, out of Texas.
No longer. In Central Texas, lavender farms have not only sprouted but taken root, and each year, the list grows longer—and likewise the list of Texas-made lavender products.
This month, nine farms help Blanco celebrate its second annual Lavender Festival. Everything—and you can take that almost literally—will be coming up lavender. Besides buying lavender plants and lavender-infused health and beauty products on the farms and in town, you can drink lavender lemonade, learn lavender crafts, and eat lavender ice cream (yummy, I promise). There will even be lavender-aromatherapy yoga classes.
Around the Old Blanco County Courthouse square, booths at a Lavender Market will offer lavender-related products of every sort. Perhaps best of all, in field after field in the rolling countryside beyond town, you can gather your own lavender while breathing in the sensuous aroma by the lungful. And if such a busy weekend starts to put you in a tizzy, just take a whiff of lavender, and let its long-touted power to calm the spirit take hold. Breathe…. Now once again…. Ahhhh.
So, how did this plant, native to the Mediterranean and grown commercially for years in Europe, come to Central Tex-as? In the late 1990s, when National Geographic photographer Robb Kendrick returned from an assignment in southern France, he told his wife, Jeannie Ralston, what had struck him: the similarity of Provence’s lavender-growing areas to their own homestead near Blanco. The couple planted the state’s first commercial lavender field in 1999, established Hill Country Lavender, and began holding seminars to get other landowners interested. The idea has grown like a weed.
From the June 2006 issue.