Just south of Marble Falls in Blanco County, adventurous day-trippers will find the Lavender Capital of Texas, where rows of lilac-colored flowers sprout from gray-green bushes on several farms every year around June — just in time for the annual Lavender Festival, which this year is June 11-13.
Held in Blanco, the Lavender Festival is expected to be bigger and better than ever, especially after last year’s celebration was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, said Blanco Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Libbey Aly.
“People are ready to get out and feel more comfortable going to an outdoor event, especially in a small town,” Aly said. “We really don’t know what to expect, but I expect at least the crowds we had in 2019, if not bigger.”
Before the festival, which began in 2005, came the lavender, a relative newcomer to the 163-year-old county’s economic engine. The first foray into floral farming occurred in 1999 when Robb Kendricks and Jeannie Ralston founded Hill Country Lavender. Aly credits the farm with spearheading the local lavender industry and helping to keep it relevant 22 years later.
The idea for a Texas lavender farm came to Kendricks while on a photo assignment in France for National Geographic. He recognized similarities between the French climate and soil and that of the Texas Hill Country. Lavender doesn’t require extreme amounts of water or rich soil that holds moisture. In fact, it thrives in soil that drains well and has neutral pH levels. The limestone-rich earth in the Hill Country lends itself perfectly to healthy lavender growth.
With the help of Kendricks’ then-16-year-old photo assistant Tasha Corradini, the couple opened Hill Country Lavender to the public in 2001, just two years after they began planting.
“Jeannie decided to do a little ad and put it in the San Antonio and Austin papers in the gardening section,” said Corradini, who now owns the farm. “All it said was basically ‘come cut your own lavender.’ She asked if I would help her that weekend, and so many people showed up that I never went back to working (as a photo assistant) for Robb.”
The farm led to a career change for Corradini, who bought it from the founding couple after they decided to move out of the country in 2005. She was still in college. She now uses the skills she learned as a double major in graphic design and photography at Texas State University in San Marcos to promote her company, which is the only remaining lavender farm in the city of Blanco.
Corradini grows 11 different types of lavender at her farm at 8241 FM 165. In addition to opening it to the public on weekends, she sells lavender products at a farm shop and markets across Central Texas.
“It’s been quite an experience, and (owning the farm) is really something I stumbled into,” Corradini said with a laugh.
The farm’s success led to competition. Thirteen more lavender farms moved to Blanco soon after Hill Country Lavender opened, but most closed a few years later when temperamental Texas weather proved too hard to overcome. An herb in the mint family, lavender doesn’t require much maintenance once planted, but too much Texas heat or too much rain can destroy a year’s work in a season. Keeping a healthy farm requires constant monitoring and replanting, Corradini explained.
One of the other remaining farms belongs to Jane and Mitchell Stephens in Johnson City. The retired couple planted their crop in 2006 on land they inherited from Jane’s mother, Margaret Stewart Wood. M&J Lavender Farm is located on the Stewart Ranch at 2484 CR 307.
The couple sell their products at farmers markets across the area and a lavender festival hosted by Becker Vineyards, a winery at 464 Becker Farms Road in Fredericksburg. The farm used to be open to the public, but the retirees have decided to cut back on the amount of work they put into the endeavor. Although they have attended the Blanco Lavender Festival, they have never sold their products there.
“We really enjoyed it; I’ve always been into plants,” Jane said. “I think you have to like to be outside or you’re not going to want to be a lavender farmer.”
Although the number of local lavender farms has dropped over the years, the economic impact on Blanco County remains. The 2019 festival drew a crowd of 40,000, mostly tourists coming to pick their own lavender, purchase holistic lotions and soaps, and explore the Texas Hill Country. The festival serves as the chamber’s largest fundraiser. It’s also good promotion for the area.
“People will come in for the Lavender Festival and think (Blanco) is nice and sweet and then come back when it’s not as busy,” Chamber Director Aly said. “We’ve also had random people who have decided to move here.”
Fun facts for lavender lovers
Know Your Type
To grow your own lavender, it’s important to determine which variety is right for you. For example, Provence lavender is a potent variety good for oil products. English lavender has a sweet smell and is often used in food.
Lavender products are used to soothe burns, treat infections, and induce relaxation. Lavender-scented products are often sold as sleep aids.
Lavender can be used in marinades and breads and as garnishes for salads and desserts.