Driving just outside of Walla Walla, amongst all the greens and golds, we come upon a pop of purple. Tucked into the fields of alfalfa and wheat is Blue Mountain Lavender Farm. I absolutely love anything U-pick. So when I heard Walla Walla Valley had its own U-pick lavender farm, I knew I had to go. A friend and I chose a breezy day in late June.
As soon as we open the car doors, the soothing smell of lavender greets us. When we enter the yard and boutique, the sweet scent gets even stronger. “Our emphasis is on the visiting of the farm, taking your time, sitting in the shade, bringing a picnic, hanging out, kind of slowing down and experiencing that part of lavender,” owner Karen Grimaud says.
After we poke around the boutique, we are sent back outside to get shears and wicker baskets and head to the field. But not before lingering on the porch to sip the complimentary lavender lemonade. Soft background music filters through the air and mixes with the gurgling water fountain. There are plenty of lawn chairs, and the picnic tables display the lavender wreaths, wands, and baskets you can learn to make there (There’s no set class schedule, but if you call ahead, it’s easy to set one up). We gather up generous bouquets of lavender in the open field, complimented with day lilies, and bright red, yellow, and pink flowers. Then back in the yard, we select a color of ribbon to wrap around them. My friend’s seven-month-old sleeps in his carrier on her chest most of the time we are there (does lavender have that effect on babies?). She comments on how relaxed she feels after we leave.
I feel the difference too. Days later, my bouquet sits in its vase at home, and the sight and scent of it bring me back to that peaceful feeling. I take some of the sprigs to put into the Kombucha I make, and it adds a delicate flowery taste to the fizzy drink. Lavender has many uses, from enhancing your mood with aromatherapy, sprinkling into a bath to deepen relaxation, or for cooking to brighten up desserts, and drinks. It has been used since ancient Egyptian times.
The farm grows 25 different varieties of lavender within the common species of English and French lavenders. “The English lavender is close to the indigenous type found in the Mediterranean Basin. It has shorter stems and is more compact,” Karen says. “Its smell is stronger and sweeter, so it is most often used in cooking. The French lavender is hybridized. It has a nice long stem, and produces twice as much oil.” Lavender likes the dry climate of Eastern Washington and grows easily here. It also makes a great addition to backyard landscaping or gardens since it is a natural pest control. The deer and gophers have no interest in eating it.
The family, including Karen and her husband, their two daughters, and Karen’s parents, all live on the farm, and sometimes other relatives come to help during the peak season. When Karen and her husband, a native Frenchman, made the decision to move from France 19 years ago and come to Walla Walla it was with the intention to create a more peaceful life for themselves. Their girls were three and four at the time, and have grown up in the business, learning everything from the care of the plants, to harvesting, and drying them, to running the boutique.
“We wanted to carve out a more old-fashioned lifestyle for our family,” Karen says.
Although Karen’s distant family came to the valley as farmers and ran a nursery in Milton-Freewater from around 1870-1970, she grew up near Seattle. She and her husband knew nothing about starting a lavender farm when they first began the project. They admit to a steep learning curve, but through a lot of research and trial and error, they created a successful farm and business, as well as a place to call home.
“I feel like I have found my place,” Jean-Paul Grimaud, Karen’s husband, says. “Sometimes when I’m working out there, I sit down and I take a break, and I just enjoy.”
If you’d like to enjoy as well, the U-pick field is open until July 15, every day except Saturdays from 10 – 5, and Wednesday till 7:30 to beat the heat. The boutique is open by appointment during the off season.
Find it by taking the road across from Waterbrook Winery off Highway 12, and follow the signs. Located near the Westside Wineries, it’s the perfect way to break up an afternoon of tastings. Check out www.bluemountainlavender.com for more information.
Read a full interview with Karen and Jean-Paul Grimaud at www.passionproject.net.