The Annual Ojai Lavender Festival happens June 25. The beauty and benefits… (Janis Flippen )
Karen and Bill Evenden love lavender. In fact, they have around 5,000 lavender plants on their 24-acre New Oak Ranch in Ojai, and every weekend from now to the end of July they invite people to wander through their picturesque fields and pick a bunch.
With the ranch's endless graceful rows of the colorful aromatic, it's easy to imagine you've been transported. "You feel like you are in Provence, not Ojai," said Karen, who has about eight plant varieties, including decorative and culinary.
"Its much more beautiful than I imagined," said 25-year-old Ventura resident Ioana Schmidt, who spent the afternoon at the ranch and is keen to learn how to grow lavender.
With its perfect growing climate of dry summers and cooler wet winters, the Ojai Valley has become an oasis for all things lavender. The Ojai Valley Lavender Festival is being held Saturday in downtown Ojai.
"It's like a Mediterranean marketplace," said Karen Evenden, who will be selling New Oak Ranch products at the festival, including soaps, creams and oils, as well as edibles such as lavender sea salt and lavender jams. "A lot of people come to the festival and then want to see where it's grown. We are not far away, so it's easy for them to do both."
With more than 100 vendors displaying their wares, the festival will be a purple haze of products, food and art. "Like most festivals we have a variety of things available but we have about a dozen purely lavender focused booths, many from local lavender farms," said Cindy Mullins, president of the Lavender Festival. "We encourage the theme throughout so you will find purple-stoned jewelry or similar colored ceramics or clothes."
It's not only a day to soothe the soul: There will also be plenty of culinary treats. "We have local restaurants contributing food items like lavender lemon bars," said Mullins.
There will even be a "misting arch" spraying lavender hydrosol (distilled lavender in water) to calm frazzled nerves. "That's part of the appeal of lavender, it has so many therapeutic uses," said Mullins. "Lavender has been around for centuries, but there are so many commercially available products these days, from soaps to hand creams to candles, that the level of awareness has just increased."
Now in its eighth year, the festival attracts about 5,000 visitors. "The festival is right in the middle of town so you can make a day of it going shopping or hiking," said Kathy Hartley, one of the organizers who also owns the appropriately themed Lavender Inn. "A lot of people come because they want to learn about growing lavender or how to cook with lavender, so we try and make the day very educational."
"One of the biggest questions you get these days is how to use lavender in cooking," said Jennifer Vasich, author of "The Lavender Gourmet" and keynote speaker at the festival. "It's a great background flavor. It has a delicate sweetness and a fresh fragrant taste that matches so many foods from ice cream to chocolates to more savory dishes."
Vasich will also be holding a hands-on cooking class at the Ojai Culinary School at the Lavender Inn on Sunday where the menu will include grilled chicken in lavender-lime marinade and lavender watermelon sorbet.
"It's not a fad," Vasich insisted. "It's like any other herb you use. I think people will be pleasantly surprised how versatile it is."
Ojai Valley Lavender Festival
Where: Libbey Park, 205 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai. Free parking with shuttle to venue available at 821 W. Ojai Ave.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday