This article is featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Texas LAND magazine. Click here to find out more.
Imagine fields of lavender. . . . Now, look at a map of Texas. The Hill Country is lush with fields of this beautiful aromatic purple herb. Surprised? Lavender festivals, farms, and entrepreneurs abound in this region. Over 20 years ago, lavender cheerleader Cathy Slaughter started connecting Texas lavender growers with growers all around the world.
In a recent interview with LAND, Cathy, the interim president for Texas Lavender Association, talks about the adventurous spirit of the lavender industry in the Hill Country.
KDM: You grew up outside of Dallas. Where do you grow lavender?
CS: I live outside of Georgetown (north of Austin), east of rolling hill lavender country. We have a wholesale nursery, Gabriel Valley Farms, where we grow a lot of lavender.
KDM: Is lavender a major part of your business?
CS: My husband Sam and I founded Gabriel Valley Farms and we grow a full range of herbs, vegetables, and perennials. Of all the herbs we grow, lavender is the biggest top-selling one we grow. We grow lavender in a four-inch pot. Farmers tell us what varieties they want, how many, then, buy them from us and plant the lavender in their field. They either buy replacements or plants to add to their lavender fields.
KDM: How did lavender make its way to the Hill Country?
CS: In the U.S., lavender started out on the West Coast—California and Washington. They were ahead of the times. It seemed like up in Washington, they had direct contact with growers in Australia, New Zealand, and other European countries. That’s where they got their plant starts. It has worked its way over to Texas over the years. There was a (Texas) National Geographic photographer who was doing an article on the perfume industry in France, and while in France, they were profiling a story about lavender. He started looking here at soil and climate and thought lavender would work. A couple other people were experimenting with lavender growing around that time.
National Geographic photographer Robb Kendrick was one of the first lavender growers in the Texas Hill Country and founded Hill Country Lavender in 1999. In 2006, he sold it to a former employee, Blanco native Tasha Brieger. Becker Vineyards was also an early player in lavender farming.
KDM: You have watched lavender sprout all over Texas.
CS: Lavender has been catching on. Lavender growing is still a relatively new industry in Texas—about 20 to 25 years. In agriculture, that’s a pretty short time! Everybody seems to be very mesmerized by lavender. You can say you’re going to grow rosemary or basil and it doesn’t have near the same effect as if you say you’re going to grow lavender.
KDM: How many lavender plants have you sold to date?
CS: If I had to guess, we have sold 500,000 lavender plants. Our largest single order was for 10,000!
KDM: So, why did you start growing lavender?
CS: We grew a little bit of lavender. It has been a trial and error of learning from folks around the world, particularly people from France, which seems to be a major growing region. When the photographer came back from the photo shoot in France, he started looking around for lavender plants. The nursery owner he was working with gave him our name. He bought our lavender plants retail and decided to try growing lavender. He got mesmerized by it and wanted to up the ante and buy thousands of plants. We started growing lavender for him and a few others.
KDM: Thousands! It sounds like lavender growers rely on your nursery.
CS: As more and more people were interested in lavender, most didn’t know anything about it. So, people started contacting us. People didn’t know how to prune it, fertilize it, market it. A lot of people that buy our lavender plants want to retire, move to the Hill Country and buy property. Some are looking for an agriculture exemption. Some people buy from us, then sell our lavender plants in their gift shops.
KDM: Then, you decided to teach your customers and learn with them.
CS: I am a school teacher by degree. I want people to know more about lavender growing. Around 2005, when we were getting into growing lavender and more people were buying plants from us, I realized most knew nothing about what they were getting into. They didn’t know anybody else doing it. That was my main motivation. If people were going to jump into lavender growing, they ought to know what they’re doing.
KDM: What led you to start lavender conferences?
CS: No one knew what to do with lavender after you grow it. I had lavender contacts in New Mexico, and that led to sharing their knowledge and expertise. The whole idea was bringing people together so they would feel they weren’t the lone soldier. Lavender growers need to get together and learn from each other. Gabriel Valley Farms sponsored the first two Southwest Lavender Conferences. After that, the Texas Lavender Association sponsored one, and another one was held in New Mexico where TLA partnered with New Mexico State University. Most conferences featured bus tours to local lavender farms, as well.
KDM: Obviously, you grow and sell lavender for more than just the income.
CS: I could take your money and sell you lavender, but I’d rather see you be successful at it. I don’t want to sell snake oil here! People need to know a little about what they’re getting into. I don’t know anybody that gets into any kind of farming that doesn’t know something about the crop they’re going to grow. Except lavender! (laughs).
KDM: Do you and Sam still personally deliver the plants?
CS: That was when we were smaller! Now, we have drivers who deliver all of our plants to the retail nurseries as well as to the lavender farmers. Our trucks have racks built in them and can accommodate about 350 flats, which translates to 7,000 individual plants.
KDM: You said Texas is known for corn, cattle, and cotton. Why is lavender a good fit for Texas?
CS: Lavender is a drought tolerant herb and we live in a hot state. It provides alternatives to people who want to get into growing lavender, but not on a large scale. And, lavender is very versatile. It’s edible, fragrant, ornamental; attracts bees and pollinators. . . . People can make products from it; distill it for essential oil; use in culinary projects.
KDM: Is lavender profitable?
CS: I don’t see many people say, ‘I want to be a lavender grower and be a millionaire’! Some just want it as a secondary income or part-time income or supplemental.
KDM: What species do best in Texas?
CS: Lavandula x intermedia, Provence, and Grosso
Lavandula x intermedia is also called Lavandin. It’s a hybrid cross between English Lavender and Portuguese Lavender and tends to grow larger and produce more flower spikes than other Lavenders. Known for its scent, Provence is a tall, aromatic variety and a favorite among soapmakers. Grosso is a French hybrid loved for its richly fragrant flowers and best in perfumes, sachets, culinary projects.
KDM: Do you have a story or fond memory from all your years in the lavender business?
CS: At our first conference, there was a lady who had just written a cookbook and won awards about cooking with lavender. She opened up people’s eyes as another potential use for growing lavender. We had the lunch catered and used every recipe out of her book!
KDM: What’s your advice for beginners?
CS: Do your homework first! Texas is a big state; it’s going to work better in some regions than others. There is a lavender that you can grow just about anywhere in Texas. In East Texas, I suggest a Spanish Lavender. Further south, I suggest Sweet Lavender, French Lavender or Fern Leaf.
Sometimes called “rabbit ears,” Spanish Lavender is known for its fragrance. Despite its name, Sweet Lavender is not for cooking; rather, it’s used in fresh bouquets. French Lavender has the traditional purple lavender-style blooms. Often grown in herb gardens, Fern Leaf attracts butterflies and is used in oils.
KDM: What keeps you in the lavender business?
CS: It’s a very magical, mystical experience. I remember being up in Washington for their lavender festival. A lady walked out into a lavender field, laid on her back and spread her arms out and took it all in. Lavender has that kind of magical feeling, that magic effect on people. No other herb does that. It’s kind of amazing.
Exploring Lavender in the Hill Country
Celebrate the beginning of lavender blooming season with festivals, walks, tours, and shopping for all things lavender. See websites for details, dates, and current COVID-19 restrictions.
Becker Vineyards Lavender Fest
Stonewall — October 2021 (Tentative)
Blanco Lavender Festival
Blanco — June 2021
The Lavender Capital of Texas
Ongoing virtual lavender market
Chappell Hill Lavender & Wine Fest
Brenham — August 2021
WALKING N’ SHOPPING
Hill Country Lavender
Blanco — HillCountryLavender.com/events
Lavender Ridge Farms
Gainesville — LavenderRidgeFarms.com
Luling Lavender Fields
Luling — LulingLavenderFields.com
Rough Creek Ranch & Lavender Fields
Wimberley — RoughCreekLavender.com