Lavender: It's the Real Thing

There's something about lavender that attracts attention. Whether it's the heady scent that permeates the air at this time of year, the fields of blooming purple plants at family farms tucked into the folds of the North Olympic Peninsula, or the plant itself, a burst of blue-violet blossoms at the end of spiked foliage whose essential oil is purported to have healing power, lavender beckons.

The proof is in the fact that about 30,000 people find their way to the lavender fields this weekend for the 14th annual Sequim Lavender Festival.

What's the draw? For one, the festival itself, which features an up-close look at everything lavender on the farm tours, a 150-booth juried street fair, concerts (this year, that includes a Beatles tribute band), cooking-with-lavender demonstrations, a fancy lavender-laced dinner, and an entire field devoted to fun for the kids.

"We put on one of the best festivals in the country," says Scott Nagel, executive director of the Sequim Lavender Festival, and a producer of festivals for better than 30 years. "We offer such a variety of activities in a short three days, it's like no other festival."

The Lavender Festival is fun for all ages — even those smelling the herb for the first time. Sequim Gazette file photos by Ashley Miller (Oden)

Festival visitors crowd the Street Fair. Fir Street will be closed to feature more than 150 booths.

Mickie Vail, director of operations for the festival, agrees. But, she takes it one step further, calling Sequim and its surroundings a destination resort.

"People come for the three-day festival and then stay a week or so visiting the other areas of interest here," she says.

That's all well and good, but, again, what is so compelling about a plant whose name is derived from the Latin word lavere, meaning "to wash"?

Steve Ragsdale, president of the Sequim Lavender Growers Association and owner of Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm, thinks it has something to do with being real.

"People are looking for the real thing," Ragsdale says. "We live in such a synthetic world, people are now starting to look for natural products and are excited about it. Lavender is so real."

Ragsdale's farm, along with five others, will showcase its natural products throughout the weekend, with free buses shuttling visitors to and fro.

On the eve of the festival, Ragsdale and his wife, Carmen, say they are ready for the rush of people who have come from far and wide to enjoy lavender.

"To stand in the middle of a (lavender) field in full bloom, there is nothing like it," Ragsdale says.

The early stages

Like all good ideas that turn into a successful venture, growing lavender in and around Sequim began with a vision, that being to restore the agricultural base of the fertile Sequim prairie. According to association growers, eight lavender farms began planting between 1995 and 1998. Since then, at least 30 more have been established. Today, more than 110,000 lavender plants are grown in the area.

The lavender festival has grown along with the number of plants and, in turn, has greatly increased tourism on the North Olympic Peninsula. Indeed, the Sequim Lavender Festival has been voted one of the top 100 events by the American Bus Association and Sequim is recognized as the Lavender Capital of North America(r), a registered trademark.

'It's for real, it's here'

On the eve of one of the largest events on the peninsula, Sequim is buzzing about lavender.

"The week before the festival, everyone starts talking about lavender," Nagel says. "It's exciting and then you know it's for real, it's here."

Nagel and his staff - Vail, Kelly Jo Hill and Brigid Woodland - work year-round toward the production of the festival, but the month or two before the opening, the work is nearly nonstop.

This week, setting up the street fair is taking precedence. Tomorrow, the vendors begin setting up booths along Fir Street in downtown Sequim. The fair is juried, which means items sold have been reviewed by a knowledgeable committee - in the case of the lavender festival, four SLGA members screen for handmade, authentic articles.

Vail, who begins sorting through applications in November, says she usually ends up with more good vendors than the festival can accommodate.

"The word spreads that you can buy quality, handmade stuff at this street fair, then the vendors want to come," Vail says. And, she adds, nearly 40 percent of the street fair vendors are from the peninsula.

For the lavender farms on tour, the festival is the culmination of everything that has taken place during the past year.

"As soon as the festival is over, we start to harvest," Ragsdale says. "It signals the beginning of next year's product."

Ragsdale adds he is grateful to the volunteers and those who attend the festival and fund each year's event. Neither the farms, he says, nor SLGA, profits individually from the festival; rather funds go to make sure there is a festival the next year and donations to the community. It becomes a people's festival, he said.

A community event

Nagel is quick to point out the total community involvement in the festival, without which his job would be much more difficult and the festival would not have achieved its success or popularity.

"First," Nagel says, "when people come to Sequim they have a good feeling about this community. The people who live here give the first impression, which is very welcoming. Visitors are looking for small-town, friendly America and they get it here in Sequim."

Festivals of any sort are important to a community, an expression of community participation, an uplifting time for its citizens.

Everyone gets behind the festival, Nagel says. That includes businesses donating items such as water, food, even fire extinguishers, and more than 250 volunteers giving their time and energy to making sure this remains one of the best festivals.

"We pay close attention to the people who attend the festival," Nagel says. "We have plenty of port-a-potties, places to sit and free wheelchairs."

As much as festival organizers talk about visitors to the area (Nagel maintains festival-goers represent 50 countries as a map posted at one of the lavender farms showed), nearly 60 percent of those attending the festival live on the North Olympic Peninsula.

That all translates to an economic boost for the area. An economic input survey conducted in 2005 showed there was a $3.6 million boom to the economy of the peninsula.

Employment goes up a bit during the festival, as well. The farms hire crews to manage food service, parking and sales.

What's the draw, the attraction to a purple plant? The answer is, all of the above.

"People love lavender," Vail says. "It's amazing. You say 'lavender' and people start gushing about how much they like it."

The 14th annual Sequim Lavender Festival officially opens at 11 a.m. Friday with gardening guru Ciscoe Morris sharing ideas for planting, growing and harvesting lavender.

Enjoy and discover your personal attraction to lavender.

Mary Powell is the media director for the Sequim Lavender Festival and can be reached at media@lavender

The 14th annual Sequim Lavender Festival

• July 16-18

• Six farms on tour: Cedarbrook Lavender and Herb Farm, Jardin du Soleil, Lost Mountain Lavender, Olympic Lavender Farm, Purple Haze Lavender, Sunshine Herb & Lavender Farm

• Street Fair, on Fir Street from Sequim Avenue to Third Avenue in downtown Sequim, features more than 150 juried booths

• Fun on the Field features dozens of children's activities

• Farm tour tickets are $15 per person and provide unlimited admission to the six farms throughout the festival. No admission charge for children 12 and under.

• Sponsored by the Sequim Lavender Growers Association

• Visit for more information

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 20
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates