I could almost smell the Lavender Festival from the parking lot — well, maybe not from that far away, but I almost could. It was exciting to walk past the Emma Lee Spray Park and Garden and enter Jackson Square in Oak Ridge at 8:00 AM Saturday. And I was in good company. Hundreds of festival-goers, anxious to get their hands on long stems of lavender bound into bunches, were looking forward to breathing in the fragrance that has lured thousands to this festival for 16 years.
Sponsored by the Jackson Square Business Association, the Lavender Festival has a charm all its own. It’s not a bustling, noisy festival where visitors line up two deep at hot dog stands while listening to several stage bands at once!
This is a quiet sort of gathering focused on the beauty of plants, hand-made crafts, and products from local gardens — a peaceful, earthy sort of festival where people mill around peering into booths filled with lavender in various forms: bouquets, wands, sachets, creams, oils . . . even edible products like lavender-infused honey or — yes, this is a real product — lavender ice cream!
And one of many reasons this is a sweet-smelling festival is this – most of us are carrying string-tied bundles of lavender everywhere we go from Jackson Square to the adjacent Farmers Market!
First stop for me: the booth of Anne Freels, designer of cornshuck dolls. Anne shared the benefits of lavender with customer Lynn Carroll – how the fragrance has a calming effect. And bouquets dry naturally but retain their pleasantness for years to come.
Marie Bullock offered beautifully displayed Victorian lavender wands woven with colored ribbons. Marie said, Victorian ladies didn’t always bathe every day as we do, so they kept a lavender wand to wave in front of themselves. The fragrance of lavender would mask any unpleasant odors. If the wand’s smell lessened over time, the lady would merely pinch the wand, releasing the fragrance into the air once again.
Under the label Heaven Scent, Marie offers products made with lavender oil like moisture cream, angel drops, linen spray, and lavender toner. Who knew lavender could be so versatile!
Honey Rock Herb Farm (Louisville) brought pictures of lavender fields, books on lavender, plant markers, bags and bunches of lavender as well as organic catnip and manuals on the care and growing of herbs.
Perhaps the Profusion of Purple Award (if there ever was such a thing) could go to Scott County Lavender, a booth that was purple to the max — everything from creams to t-shirts and products bottled in purple.
Pat Osborne told me about Lavender Hydrosol, a by-product of a distillation process. What remains after the process is pure mountain stream water infused with lavender essential oil. She said that essential oil could be compared to perfume whereas Lavender Hydrosol would be similar to cologne — not as concentrated but quite effective!
Pat says you can spray Hydrosol on a pillows for a lingering fragrance. But Hydrosol spray can also kill germs, lessen the sting of sunburn, repel fleas in pet areas . . . even have a cooling effect on hot flashes! A wonder elixir, for sure, if it does all that!
Many area nurseries and herb farms brought their healthiest, showiest plants for sale. Melanie and Kathy from Erin’s Meadow Herb Farm told me about their location in the Marlow Community near Oak Ridge where herbs are their specialty, but they also have a wide selection of native plants and garden accessories. You really ought to come out to the farm right now, Melanie told me. It’s at its best. You’d love it!
My favorite booth was this one by Erin’s Meadow Herb Farm. There’s just something appealing about weathered doors and antiques used as garden art.
In another booth by Erin’s Meadow Herb Farm, terrariums took center stage. This topless one held gentle fern-like plants poking above glass to catch the light. (I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making these for gifts, so this one inspired me to give it a go! I love these!)
Although succulents have never been a favorite plant of mine (I think it’s their hard leaves or compact nature that I don’t like), I have been successful with these hardy plants in spite of how I feel. So I’ve come to look more closely at them as mainstays in my biggest flower pots. I especially like the looks of a whole flat of these from Erin’s Meadow basking in the early morning sun.
Some of the most colorful blooming perennials were brought by Sunlight Gardens. The sign near these native Coneflowers says they’re great for cut flowers!
Another sign told me something I didn’t know about Blazing Stars — they’re butterfly magnets! (They must also be photographer magnets, because several of us were kneeling down to catch the perky color and full blooms on film!)
Working craftsmen are always a pleasure to watch at a festival. Scott Weatherly of Crossville stopped his work for a few minutes to tell me about the art of chair caning, a craft he’s practiced for twelve years. After soaking the cane, he weaves traditional patterns that look best with the lines of the chair. He was putting the finishing touches on this unusual pattern to bring new life to an old piece.
Linda Baldwin, The Barefoot Weaver, from Heiskell, has been weaving for eleven years. She told me that after she “got into” weaving, she loved the craft so much she bought the house next door to use as her studio! She weaves placemats, runners, pot holders, and other home essentials, and it thrilled me to watch her hard at work right there in her booth.
This particular runner was something I don’t often see — it was woven with a combination of yarn and strips of torn cloth. Sturdy, yet beautiful — with a contemporary feel.
Melissa Ball of Stony Clay Station Pottery creates wheel thrown stoneware pottery in her studio in Lenoir City along with partner Benjamin Qualls. She was busy that morning judging from the long line waiting to pay her for her wares. I asked one customer if her pottery purchases were for gifts, but she smiled and said, Actually no. These pieces are just for me!
Finding old linens is a hobby that Tina Richey has had for years. Now she’s putting the embroidered tablecloths, napkins, pillowcases, etc., to good use! She gathers similar patterns (like florals, birds, dogs, etc.); stitches the small pieces together to form larger blocks; and then cuts out fronts, backs, and sleeves to create these one-of-a-kind jackets! Her Knoxville business of wearable art and accessories is known as Spotted Horse Crafts.
Jeri Landers – whose dreamlike drawings and scherenschnitte (paper cuttings) have drawn me in for closer looks (and purchases) for years — had a stunning booth. At the Lavender Festival, she was selling her fabulous children’s books. They’re not only sweet stories . . . they are beautifully illustrated! Look for The Journey of Bushky Busybottom — one of several bunny tales — by Jeri Landers, one of the busiest artists I’ve ever met. (This stunning backdrop is an enlargement of one of her illustrations!)
From Morgan County came Lana Manis whose business Honeysuckle Lane drew me in to her booth. Her hand-crafted creations — tiny pillows and lavender sachets — have been featured in Romantic Homes, Early American Life, Sunset, and Victoria.
She uses bits of ribbon to form flower petals and leaves. Then she adds embroidery stems and stitchery embellishments — all against a backdrop of lovely linen in yummy colors.
Jenni Dickenson of Napping Cat Flower Farm in Maryville not only grows these lively flowers — she creates little bouquets and then arranges them in colorful — or plain — tin cans. Even the names of her bouquets are cute — like “Hippy Chick Farmstand Mix”! (Apologies for the slightly blurry photo.)
When she told me she sets up at the Knoxville Farmers Market on Market Square Wednesdays and Saturdays, I knew I could find her again and take home several of her bouquets for gifts in the near future!
The creator and editor of Flour Sack Mama, Anne Brock, promotes green living on her blog (floursackmama.blogspot.com) and in her booth. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest giving tips for thriftiness and better living that protects the environment and us, too!
She offered children a chance to be a part of the festival by making little lavender sachets. The kids selected fabric, filled the pouches with lavender furnished by The Ferrell Shop, and then stitched the tops closed. Here’s a dad helping his daughter put the finishing touches on her lavender sachet! Sweet, huh?
Sweetwater Valley Farm was there, too! If you haven’t been there for a visit, you can take your children or grandchildren to see farm animals on one of the prettiest farms in East Tennessee in Philadelphia. (Call before you go to get the schedule: 877.862.4332!)
For the Lavender Festival, they passed out samples of Sweetwater Valley Farm Cheddar Cheese and let guests have a taste of Artisan Honey Jelly — that’s right, honey with the consistency of jelly! Mmmm. Would love that on a hot biscuit!
Behind Jackson Square was the regularly scheduled Farmers Market, so I headed past the festival booths to see what the farmers had brought. The Cruze Farm girls (well, not many of them since they were manning booths at three locations all on the same morning) brought Lavender Ice Cream and Lavender Honey!
Since I had to have my hands free to take pictures all morning, I made no purchases until the end. And what I came for was right in the Oak Ridge Farmers Market: Joe Hollar of Knoxville was grabbing handfuls of lavender from an open truck bed, tying those bundles with string, and making lots of customers (including me!) very happy!
It was heavenly to walk away with my souvenir bundle of lavender that I smelled in my warm car all the way home! (Not this one — but isn’t it gorgeous?!)
Each year the Lavender Festival offers a newly commissioned piece of art for sale. The website posted this lovely pastel work by Mary Katherine Chin titled “Lavender” as the 2012 featured art.
The Oak Ridge Farmers Market is open on Wednesdays, 3 to 6 P.M. and Saturdays, 8 A.M. to noon from mid-April through late November. You can find locally-grown vegetables, herbs, honey, meats, cheeses, baked goods, plants, and fresh cut flowers!