by Margie Eades
When in the Hill Country, do as the Provençal French do.
That is just what National Geographic photographer Robb Kendrick did after realizing that the terroir of Southern France was similar to that of Texas’s Hill Country while shooting the lavender fields of Provence on assignment. In 1999 Kendrick and his wife planted what would be the first of five or so lavender farms that exist to this day in the area surrounding Blanco, Texas.
In spite of the devastating drought that has been affecting Texan farmers for the past several years, three lavender farms in Blanco still welcomed visitors to their farms during the 8th Annual Blanco Lavender Festival. Thanks to the drought, the crop was small and the blooms were um, sparse, to say the least. However the festival drew a large crowd with activities like lavender picking and lavender wand making, as well as attractions like baby Nubian goats (triplets!) and lavender margaritas, sausages, and ice cream.
Garth Brooks – Long Neck Bottle
I got out of bed and on the road Saturday morning at about 8:30 AM. Blanco is a pleasant one hour drive from Austin and I had plans back in Austin at 1PM so I wanted to be as intentional with my time as possible. The festival started at 9AM and there were three farms to hit; I planned my trip so that I would make a loop of all the farms and be headed back to Austin by 12:05. My route allowed that I could pass through the artisan market in Blanco’s town square, but I decided early on not to stop there because of my time constraint.
The drive down U.S.290 was a treat in itself. It was early enough in the morning that I could zip down the highway with all the windows down, sunroof open, my hair tied back with a bandana, blasting country music with cool wind and gentle sunlight on my skin. Surprisingly, the wildflowers were still out in full force like I never would have imagined. Hot pink bubbles emerging from dusty rock walls, purple thistles scattered here and there, and fields of lanky sunflowers accompanied by the usual dark red and soft pink flowers that somehow survive along the highway. I guess the springtime rain and the relatively mild heat we have had this spring/early summer have allowed them to thrive well on into June**.
I missed Miller Creek Farm right at the intersection of 290 + 281 so the first farm I arrived at was Hill Country Lavender. To be honest, it was a disappointing first impression. The plot was small, the “lavender chair massages under the beautiful live oak tree” had not begun yet (I was there at 9:30), and because the plants were so distraught from the drought, no picking was allowed. The farm’s one redeeming quality was the delicious looking produce offered in the open air store at the entrance to the farm and the pleasant-looking shaded seating area accompanying the produce stand. I am sure there were more attractions later, but I needed to move on to the next stop.
I lost some time backtracking up 281 to Miller Creek Lavender Farm, but the friendly folks at Miller Creek made it worthwhile. Upon arrival a man greeted me with “there are no rules except to have fun, alright?” and cheerfully directed me where to park. An antique car club had stopped by (later it would be the ROT Rally bikers), giving the men something to look at while the women and children explored the rows of lavender.
I sauntered around checking out the shop, the oil and watercolor paintings by a talented female artist, and tasting lavender jellies and lavender margarita mix (mixed with champagne and way too sweet in my opinion), before deciding I wanted to learn how to make a lavender wand. First, I had to cut my own stems of lavender from the field – yay! It cost $5 to pick a small bunch (15-20 stems), which I felt was reasonable considering the impact of the drought. Being out in the quiet field was extremely relaxing and reminded me of the 4 months I spent studying in the sunny and tranquil South of France last year. Walking back to the activity tents I made friends with a woman named Betty who travels with her husband to the festival every year from Lockhart. They bring their camper and make a weekend of it – one of her favorite parts is the live music that takes place every day in the town square.
Weaving the ribbon between the stems of my lavender wand was equally simple and calming, and plenty of other visitors sitting around the table – from toddlers to grandparents – felt the same. I was impressed that the couple leading the activity had come all the way from Houston to share the craft with us, and they seemed surprised at the large turn out at the festival this year.
Before heading on to the third and final farm, I whizzed through the butterfly garden where a gardener introduced me to the Horsemint flower – it smells like oregano! It was lunch time so I decided to dish out $4 to try a lavender sausage. Not bad, but it did not taste anything like lavender.
It only took about 10 minutes to get to downtown, which was bustling with traffic, and hop onto TX Ranch Road 165 in the direction of Wimberley Lavender Farm. That was a fun, winding drive, but I was in a bit of a time crunch so it was a little more like a roller coaster. Wimberley’s advertised attractions were baby Nubian and Nigerian fainting goats available to pet, as well as a “lavender bejeweled pony” (beats me…) and goat cheese products. This last farm was definitely the most picturesque, but unfortunately I did not have much time to enjoy it. I had passed a colorful flower farm on the way and wanted to squeeze in one last stop there before heading back to Austin.
I forgot to look around for the bejeweled pony – though I am pretty sure I would have noticed if it was there – but the adorable little goats made my day. Also fun to see on the farm were some stolid longhorns, though their nearly anorexic bodies struggling to support their mighty crowns were a sad manifestation of the strain borne by the parched Texan earth.
On my way out, I had just enough time to stop at the charming cerulean barn I had spotted when I turned from Hwy 165 onto FM 2325 on my way to the Wimberley farm. It turned out to be the Arnosky family farm which specializes in fresh-cut flowers – gorgeous ones I might add – and vegetables grown right there on the corner. I did not get to talk to the owner, who was busy helping a family identify a plant they had found growing in their garden, but I am sure the farm has a fascinating story. I would love to go back there someday – and would recommend that you check it out too if you are ever in the area.
Just as planned, it was 12:05 when I got back on the road to Austin. Perfect timing and a perfect little day trip to cheer my soul. Even with the drought, I had a wonderful time at the 8th Annual Blanco Lavender Festival. See you again soon, Blanco! ☆
** check out Shirley’s blog for wildflower photos and more formal wildflower information
It’s not too late to check out Blanco’s offerings! Several of the farms have “U-pick” Lavender Days throughout the month of June as well as other farm attractions throughout the year. See their individual websites for more information.
More pictures, click for a slideshow. All photos by Margie Eades: