Garden Variety: Lavender farm features plenty of sights and scents

photo by: Richard Gwin

Kathy and Jack Wilson look over some lavender ready to harvest at Washington Creek Lavender, 858 East 800 Road, on June 8, 2016.

Area residents can get a feel for the French countryside this weekend at Washington Creek Lavender, 858 East 800 Road, as owners Jack and Kathy Wilson open their doors for casual strolls, tours and more.

The predominant species of lavender at the farm should be at its peak, and visitors can expect a peaceful day in the country enjoying the sights and scents of the lavender. The open house is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Jack says visitors are often surprised to learn there are so many different types of lavender and that some are pink or white rather than the customary purple. He and Kathy grow six lavender varieties selected for their fragrance and hardiness (Grosso, Gross Blue, Folgate, French Fields, Royal Purple and Edelweiss) and two culinary varieties (Buena Vista and Melissa). There are more than 5,000 lavender plants growing at Washington Creek Lavender. The farm is also certified organic.

Lavender has few pest problems, favors alkaline soils and is extremely drought-tolerant, so it can be a good crop for Kansas. Lavender is also a good choice for the landscape in well-drained soils. The biggest challenges to growing lavender are winter temperature extremes and saturated soils, both of which the Wilsons experienced in 2015. Although they lost almost a third of their crop that year, they have replanted and expect harvest to ramp up again over the next few years. Lavender plants will generally live 10 years or more.

photo by: Richard Gwin

Dry lavender hangs in the barn at Jack and Kathy Wilson's Washington Creek Lavender, 858 East 800 Road, on June 8, 2016.

Lavender is primarily grown for its fragrance and the production of oil used in perfumes and a multitude of lavender-scented products. However, the fresh and dried flowers carry the fragrance also and can be used in the same manner. The smell of lavender is reported to be calming and soothing. Culinary lavender flowers are less fragrant than other varieties so they offer a floral complement to food rather than overpowering it. Culinary lavender is most often used in baked goods or teas.

At Washington Creek Lavender, flower stems are harvested for use in sachets, dryer sheets, neck comforters, soaps and other handmade products. Culinary lavender is also available in tins perfect for the spice cabinet. Visitors will be able to learn about the process of harvesting, drying and stripping the lavender as well as tour the drying barn and see how lavender is used in the various products offered at the farm.

The Wilsons recently purchased an essential oil still which will be on display this weekend, but is not yet in use. Since it takes about 100 to 150 pounds of lavender to make just 16 ounces of essential oil, they are hesitant to venture into that market. They are considering making a hydrosol, or floral water, which is another product of distillation. Hydrosols are used similarly to essential oils but are milder.

To add to the ambiance this weekend, internationally recognized harpist Erin Wood will play from 1 p.m. to 3 at the open house.