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A feast for the senses

The Southern Oregon Lavender Festival this weekend will pay tribute to a plant that has attracted humans for thousands of years with its fragrance and blooms.

"The Romans used it when washing and for scenting the water they washed their clothes with. People would hang their linens over lavender bushes," says Rosenelle Florencechild, head gardener of Oregon State University's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center lavender demonstration garden at 569 Hanley Road, between Central Point and Jacksonville.

"The Romans would sprinkle the flowers on the floor, and when they walked on the lavender, it would reawaken the scent."

The OSU garden is one of six gardens and farms participating in the festival Friday through Sunday, June 26-28. The event features food, drinks, artisan booths, crafts, demonstrations and other activities. The six locations make up the Southern Oregon Lavender Trail, which stretches across the Applegate Valley.

Ideal for growing lavender, the Applegate Valley shares the Mediterranean climate of the land where lavender originated.

Florencechild said lavender first grew across Spain, France, Italy and Greece. It was later carried to England, where it became a favorite, and to America. With people becoming increasingly aware of using drought-tolerant plants, lavender is gaining popularity in dry areas like Southern Oregon.

It does well in areas with mild winters, and prefers hot, dry summers. Where other plants would suffer, lavender prefers sandy, gravelly soil with good drainage and doesn't need frequent watering, Florencechild said.

The OSU garden is filled with diverse types of lavender, from white to purple, and from ankle to chest high.

"Listening to the sound of the bees and smelling the lavender, I can't think of anything more calming," Florencechild said as she stood in the garden. "I feel calm and energized when I'm in the lavender. It pleases all the senses. Visually you see all these mounds and shapes and colors. They're like dunes of lavender."

Lavender Fields Forever, located at 375 Hamilton Road near Ruch, will have artisan booths, fresh lunch and snacks from Figgy's Food Truck, oil distillation demonstrations and lavender wand, sachet and wreath-making activities. Stroll the fields and pick pink, white and purple varieties of lavender. In a rustic barn converted into a store, shop for all-natural lavender products for the home and body.

At the English Lavender Farm, 8040 Thompson Creek Road, walk among more than 4,000 lavender plants with views of mountains forming the backdrop to the Applegate Valley farm. 

Try a lavender lunch and snack menu by Rogue Seasonings, sample lavender ice cream, watch lavender oil distillation demonstrations, make fragrant wreathes and wands, and visit the drying barn and gift shop.

Goodwin Creek Gardens, 970 Cedar Flat Road near Williams, will feature lavender topiaries, soaps, lotions and sorbet. Certified organic, the gardens also feature culinary and medicinal herbs, plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies, and milkweed plants to help feed monarch caterpillars.

Two Sisters Lavender Farm and Luna Blue Farm are nestled side-by-side at 540 Lofland Lane, Williams. 

At Two Sisters Lavender Farm, see farm animals and learn about family farming. Enjoy a picnic under the trees, freshly cut lavender bundles and heirloom vegetables. 

Eat lavender ice cream sandwiches at Luna Blue Farm, make lavender crafts, visit a farm stand and see watercolor art by Crystal Pyren.

For more details about the Southern Oregon Lavender Festival, including a map of the Southern Oregon Lavender Trail and information about each individual site, visit www.southernoregonlavendertrail.com.

A honey bee explores a lavendar field at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch