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Indulging my interest in food and flavor, I love to write about cooking, gardening and life's bounty. My new book - "Discover Cooking with Lavender"- is now available

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lavender Loves California and So Does This Pooch

Clairmont Farms, near the town of Los Olivos, was a horse ranch before becoming home to 12,000 lavender plants. Located in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, these lavender fields flow across five acres. A long, bumpy driveway is lined with gnarled olive trees. These trees were planted more than 175 years ago by Spanish missionaries.

The sun feels hot as we step out of our air conditioned rental car. A gentle breeze ripples across the lilac-colored field. The fragrant scent of lavender chases away the stress of traffic, cell phones and business meetings. The lavender, not quite in full bloom, waves to us. It seems to whisper, “Welcome to the land of golden sunshine.”

On the edge of the field, sturdy oak trees spread their branches. I look over the horizon and see the Santa Ynez mountains profiled against the blue sky. Having just arrived from Seattle, John and I bask in the sun and soak up the color.

Meryl Tanza bought this property in 1976, then part of a 30-acre parcel. Meryl grew up in South Africa and loved horses, so she planned to breed thoroughbreds here. To supplement her income, she turned to growing lavender. Several years ago, she planted thousands of Grosso Lavender plants, a hybrid known for its high oil content. “We purchased a small distillery and began to extract essential lavender oil from plant material,” Meryl explains.

Meryl and her husband, Glenn Thalheimer, spend long days tending the farm, extracting lavender oil and making scented candles, sachets and body lotion. The farm is open to visitors daily.

My husband and I stroll through the fragrant fields, browse in the boutique and capture this landscape with our camera. Lawn chairs line the field’s perimeter, offering places to sit, rest and take in the moment. The family dog, a short hair collie, hops into a chair and poses for a photo with a serene expression. I wonder whether it is the lavender that makes him so calm.

A steady stream of people come and go, buying lavender honey, dried bouquets or bubble bath. While John and I linger in the afternoon sun, a black stretch limousine rolls down the driveway toward the farm. A woman, looking stylish with three-inch heels and a large hat, emerges. “This is amazing. I am from Connecticut, vacationing in Santa Barbara, and I heard about this farm at my time-share.”

Another group consists of an extended family visiting the area to celebrate a college graduation. The proud mother says, “We’ve never seen a lavender farm and are amazed at the purple fields. This is just like a Monet painting come-to-life.”

Clairmont Farms also maintains an online retail store for people who can’t visit the farm in person. With Mother's day coming up in just a few weeks, you may want to consider a gift of Lavender Shampoo, Culinary Lavender Honey or Lavender Mist.

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