Barbara Hulscher traces her love of lavender to a childhood home in Ohio, where the gardens were filled with the fragrant flower. She enjoyed the scent wafting through the air and the hum of bees going about their work.
“It was just so peaceful,” Hulscher recalled.
When Sequim started its lavender festival in the mid-1990s, Hulscher followed the growth of the region’s lavender farms with interest. “I thought, maybe someday I’ll do that,” she said of her dream to cultivate her own lavender fields.
Fast forward to 2000, the year Hulscher and her husband, Jerry, moved from Puyallup to the Roy area, settling on family property. That’s when the idea hit her: “There’s a lot of land here; I think I’ll do a test garden,” Hulscher said. So in 2001, she traveled to Sequim and bought 60 lavender plants; she added 200 more plants to the test garden in 2005. “I went berserk in 2006 and put this field in here,” Hulscher said, motioning to a spread of 600 plants.
Today, she and Jerry operate their venture as Mountain Meadow Lavender, offering cut and dried lavender, a hand-picked selection of lavender plants and a small shop filled with gifts – including soaps, ground lavender for cooking and Hulscher’s handcrafted sachets and lavender wands.
Visitors will find eight lavender varieties in the test garden, while the largest field contains three: Royal Velvet, Grosso and Gros Bleu.
Hulscher loves Royal Velvet for its “deep, dark, velvety blue flowers,” which make beautiful bouquets and retain their color well when dried.
But Gros Bleu has quickly become her favorite. “It has the darkest flowers of any lavandin,” Hulcher said, with flower spikes stretching 41/2 inches or more on stems that are 30 inches at maturity. Its fragrance has a hint of lavender, but it’s a little sweeter than the scent of Grosso, which is the largest commercially grown lavender in the world.
People love lavender, Hulscher said, because it not only adds beauty and fragrance to the summer garden, but also can be enjoyed year-round in crafts, cosmetics and cooking.
“Lavender remains very popular because it is such a unique plant,” she said.
Four common lavender species:
• Spanish lavender (lavandula stoechas): Begins blooming in May; continues until October if dead-headed. Recognized by the “bunny ears” at the top of each pinecone-shaped blossom. Plants grow 18-36 inches tall and might need protection in cold winters.
• English lavender (lavandula angustifolia): Blooms from mid-June to late July; deadheading might produce a smaller flush of bloom in August or September. Has short-stemmed flowers on plants up to 2 feet tall.
• Lavandin (lavandula x intermedia): Blooms from early July to late August; some varieties bloom until frost. Plants are larger than English lavenders (some grow 3 feet tall or more), with longer stems and larger flower spikes.
• Woolly lavender (lavandula lanata): Blooms from mid- to late summer. Foliage is silvery and sometimes fuzzy; flowers are typically dark purple; plants are 18-30 inches tall.
SIX MORE TO TRY
1. “Folgate,” the earliest blooming of the English lavenders, has periwinkle blue flowers and is great to cook with.
2. “White Spike,” a lavandin with white flowers on stems up to 30 inches long, provides contrast as a background plant or in bouquets.
3. “Melissa,” a compact English lavender bearing white flowers with a hint of pale pink. It’s excellent for cooking or baking.
4. “Silver Frost,” a hybrid cross between English and woolly lavenders, has dark violet flowers. Its silvery foliage is lovely in the landscape all year.
5. “Provence,” one of the largest lavandins, has mauve flowers. Often used in cooking, it’s best in savory dishes.
6. “Blue Cushion,” an aromatic, dwarf English lavender with deep-blue flowers and a compact habit, perfect for containers.
Sources: Barbara Hulscher, www.victorslavender.com MOUNTAIN MEADOW LAVENDER
Where: 919 304th St. S., Roy
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Thursday to Sunday, through August
Web site: http://mountainmeadow lavender.com
Save the date: Inaugural Mountain Meadow Lavender Fest, July 9-10, 2010 Two July festivals
7TH ANNUAL VASHON ISLAND LAVENDER FARM TOUR
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 11-12
Admission: $5 per person; children free. Includes shuttle service (starting at 9:30 a.m.) every 20 minutes from both Vashon ferry docks, with stops at three lavender farms, the Vashon Farmers Market and downtown Vashon.
Farm tours: Three farms offer U-pick lavender, plants and crafts including lavender wands, wreaths, sachets and soaps. Learn new ways to cook with lavender. Enjoy live music while sampling lavender lemonade or lavender ice cream.
Special focus: Proceeds benefit Sustainable Vashon’s Solar Initiative. An expert on residential solar power will be at each farm, and tour buses will stop at two solar installations on the island.
Information: www.vashonlavender.com or call 206-954-6310
13TH ANNUAL SEQUIM LAVENDER FESTIVAL
When: July 17-19
Farm tours: Seven farms are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, offering U-pick lavender, handcrafted lavender products, lavender workshops, craft artists, food and music. Meet farmers at 11 a.m. each day; on Sunday, check out lavender culinary demonstrations. Admission is $15 for adults (good for all three days), free for children 12 and younger; a free shuttle is available.
Street fair: Downtown Sequim hosts more than 150 booths with crafts, art and lavender specialty products; enjoy cooking demonstrations, food court, beverages and live music. Hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (6 p.m. on Sunday). Admission is free.
Information: www.lavenderfestival.com, 877-681-3035 HULSCHER’S GROWING TIPS
• Plant lavender in a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Loosen the soil well; sand can be added to clay soil for better drainage. Mix a cup of bone meal in each planting hole to trigger root growth.
• Mulching with shells or gravel will help drainage and provide warmth for heat-loving lavenders.
• Water at least once a week (more if it’s hot) during the first month after planting. Once plants are established, water every couple of weeks. Avoid pairing lavender with annuals that need more frequent watering.
• Prune lavender yearly, in October or November, to keep the plants from spreading open. Don’t cut into the woody part, because new growth may not occur. Hulscher likes to leave at least 3-4 inches of foliage.
• Dry flowers by cutting stems as long as possible, then removing the foliage. Wrap small bunches with rubber bands and use a paper clip to hang them in an area out of the sun, with some ventilation. It will take about a week for flowers to dry. To make sachets, wait a couple of weeks, then remove the flowers from the dried stems.