The founders of the Lavender Festival began with a vision of rolling purple fields to replace fallow dairy pasture, restoring the agricultural base of the fertile Sequim Prairie. Since then, cultivation of lavender in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley has grown into a strong, environmentally sound, agri-business. Over 110,000 lavender plants are grown each year in the area. With its myriad uses beyond sheer fragrance – cosmetic, culinary, medicinal, craft, decorative – the magical herb has fostered dozens of small, creative ventures across the Olympic Peninsula and beyond.
The Lavender Festival has expanded the lavender industry in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley and increased agri-tourism, cultural tourism, and culinary tourism on the North Olympic Peninsula.
By 1995, the economy of the Sequim Prairie was in full transition from its historical agricultural base to housing and commercial development. A small group of people, disturbed by the loss of fruitful fields, decided to take a practical, productive approach to the issue. Intent on restoring Sequim Prairie, these visionary citizens looked for something beyond livestock and commodity crops. They sought a solution which would enrich the environment. They hoped to make all who live in and visit the Sequim-Dungeness area appreciate the surrounding land, fostering a sense of conservation of the best that the region has to offer. Growing lavender became the ideal solution.
From the very beginning, would-be lavender growers and their supporters knew that to promote their notion of saving farmland, the community must understand that the land has great value agriculturally, if only Sequim could find its own unique niche. Visions of its purple beauty, a fragrant scent on the breeze, and the possibility of creating a wide array of products from the fragrant blossoms attracted them to lavender, as did its propensity for growing with a minimum of water and a maximum of sunshine. Perfect for Sequim’s climate!
Much research took place to determine the ideal varieties, best planting and growing practices as the first few farms embarked on what many thought was folly. By 1996, the harvest was abundant enough that a few farms ventured to Sequim’s downtown Open Aire Market (every Saturday from May through October on Cedar Street) to show the public what nature had produced. This was the first Lavender Festival, attended only by locals and their visiting friends.
Early farmers had decided to plant the lavender in varieties Grosso, known for its long stems and large blossoms, perfect for making dried lavender bundles, and Provence, which loses its blossoms upon drying, making it ideal for sachet mixes. Over time, those varieties have been augmented with English lavenders, best for cooking and oil distillation, and Spanish lavenders with their butterfly-like whorl of petals atop the blossom and long bloom season ideal for landscaping. Farmers have also discovered other varieties which offer unique color, size, foliage or olfactory properties of value for sachet- or oil-blending.
So magical was this herb that the community embraced it as its own. Entering through the nostrils, lavender took people back to days gone by, and filled them with visions of days to come, when Sequim might become The Lavender Capital of North America®. Great ideas, like well-acclimated plants, take root easily. Over the next several years, Sequim’s Lavender Festival grew. People wanted to go out to the farms, back to the land, to see how regular folks had transformed small plots of land into arable, productive gardens and farms. Community members have always been an integral part of Sequim’s lavender success, learning alongside the farmers, volunteering at events and promoting with pride our growing lavender legend.
Farmers and visitors alike discovered that indeed, the herb held the power to both rejuvenate and relax, and could be used in so many ways that it promoted creativity among its users. It didn’t take long for each farm to gain its own identity, and each took a name that reflected not only its rural flavor, but its owner’s dreams.
Eight lavender farms began planting between 1995 and 1998, and since then, more than 30 more have been established. Farming is now, and has always been hard work, and in today’s financial climate, each farm has had to find its niche to be economically viable. Farms sell wholesale or retail. Some entertain visitors. Others propagate plant starts in large greenhouses; make products in the barn or ship out the dried herb in bulk to local cottage crafters. Some farms have joined forces with others to gain the power of cooperative, commodity sales.