A new Applegate farm puts the "English" in English lavender.

A new Applegate farm puts the "English" in English lavender.

When Sue and Derek Owen came across the pond from London to settle in the Applegate, they brought historical photos of lavender being grown and harvested in England.

Now the Owens are creating modern lavender memories at their English Lavender Farm, which they started after leaving behind their parcel-posting business two years ago.

"We felt that it was a beautiful place to live," says Sue Owen, 52.

The English Lavender Farm officially opened to the public Saturday and, along with four other local farms and the lavender garden at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, will host an array of special events to celebrate the Oregon Lavender Festival, which is scheduled for Friday through Sunday, July 11-13. The local lavender farmers have collectively mapped a route connecting their properties and dubbed it the Southern Oregon Lavender Trail.

"It's an advantage to have more than one (farm)," says Owen of the lavender trail's appeal to locals and visitors alike. "Each farm is doing different things."

Almost all of the farms, however, offer fresh, fragrant lavender bouquets for sale, including U-pick. Prices range from $5 to $6. Handmade lavender products at participating farms run the gamut from traditional wreaths and wands to fine-art pieces using recycled materials. Foods flavored with lavender will be featured at many of the farms.

Piqued by the plant's culinary possibilities, Owen selected English lavenders. Their oil is preferred by chefs and perfumers, who consider it sweeter and less camphoraceous than French lavender varieties, known for producing larger quantities of essential oil, she says. English lavenders, known botanically as Lavandula angustifolia, infuse Owen's own line of syrups and vinegars. The English Lavender Farm also stocks locally made specialty foods with lavender, such as Salinity salt and Rogue Creamery cheddar.

"It also makes a very good rub for pork and chicken," says Owen, recalling that lavender-crusted chicken served at the Northwest Regional Lavender Conference primed her palate for cooking with lavender, much as one would use rosemary.

A craving for ice cream with lavender lured Crystal Pyren's family annually to Washington's Sequim Lavender Festival. Relocating this year from Issaquah, Wash., to Williams, the Pyrens plan to inaugurate their Luna Blue Farm with lavender ice-cream sandwiches during the festival. The treats, provided by an outside vendor, are part of a plethora of handmade goods, including cleaning supplies, willow baskets, hand-woven woolens and soap custom-made for Luna Blue, says Pyren, 42.

A former painter of theater sets, Pyren says she's mingling fine art and handicrafts at Luna Blue. Her original watercolors and quirky, lavender-stuffed horses sculpted from repurposed wool sweaters share retail space with inexpensive lavender sachets and ornaments.

U-pick is not available yet from Luna Blue's lavender fields, still in their infancy with just 200 plants. The design of circular rows, however, affords a unique visual for visitors.

"We kind of just did it because it sounded like fun," says Pyren, explaining that she wasn't worried about the local lavender niche being overgrown with other farms before her family's arrival.

"The more the merrier."

Both Owen and Pyren say they were looking for more sustainable lifestyles and businesses. When the two farmers coincidentally met at the regional lavender conference, they realized there was little coincidence in setting their sights on the same locale.

Southern Oregon's hot, dry summers and abundance of rocky, well-drained soil is ideal for lavender, a drought-tolerant plant native to the Mediterranean. Trips to Provence, France, where lavender pervades the landscape, afforded the Owens plenty of inspiration and consultation with industry experts.

Lavenders fall into three main categories: the shorter, more compact English varieties, the most commonly cultivated Lavandins and the showy Spanish lavenders, used almost exclusively in landscaping décor, according to the Oregon Lavender Association website.

The association devised the lavender festival in 2000 to promote its approximately 30 members, most in the Willamette Valley.

Local lavender farms generally are open Fridays through Sundays in July and August, when the plants are in full bloom. More than 80 labeled lavender varieties can be perused at the OSU Lavender Garden, open daily for self-guided tours at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.