Luscious Lavender in Arizona
By John Roark
Sixteen years ago, Christine and Mike Teeple launched the Red Rock Lavender Festival at their farm in Concho. Every June during peak blooming season, as many as 2,500 visitors from all over the country make the pilgrimage to the eight-day fete to buy lavender plants and learn how to care for them, sample foods infused with the herb, and enjoy wines from the farm’s adjacent vineyards. “This event is a true farm experience,” says Christine. “Folks come to bask in the colorful beauty, breathe the fragrant air and experience something lovely and truly unique.”
One could say that the development of the festival was kismet. After relocating from California in search of semiretirement, the couple purchased 120 acres of undeveloped land on the eastern edge of the state, about 30 minutes northeast of Show Low. What began as a landscaping project inspired by a vacation in Provence, France, evolved into a full-fledged, dedicated lavender farm. “We thought we should start conservatively. Lavender is typically grown in the Mediterranean,” says Christine. “We weren’t even sure if it would grow at our elevation.” As luck would have it, the plants thrived, Red Rock Lavender Farm was born, and a few years later the annual event took shape.
“The fields are so beautiful when they are in full bloom. We wanted to share that with people,” says Christine. “The festival is a lot more affordable than booking a trip to Provence.”
“Everyone should have lavender in their garden because it’s beautiful, it smells fabulous, it attracts bees and it repels just about everything else,” says Christine. While the Red Rock Lavender Festival sells 14 different varieties of the plant, she recommends two that flourish in the Valley of the Sun.
Lavender grosso (Lavendula ‘Grosso’): This long-stemmed classic French hybrid grows vigorously and delivers a profusion of intensely fragrant, deep purple flowers ideal for bouquets, sachets and potpourri.
Provence lavender (Lavendula x intermedia): Another French hybrid with blooms that are lighter in color than lavender grosso. This variety is perfect for culinary use, bringing a delicate floral note to ice creams, lemonade, scones, brownies and other confections.
In addition to the purple majesty and soothing fragrance that lavender imparts, Christine loves the flowering shrub because it is easy to grow. She recommends planting in partial shade, such as beneath a tree canopy, in well-drained soil at a depth that matches the container the plant comes in. It should be watered frequently until well-established, and afterwards only when the soil is dry.
Christine also praises the herb’s versatility. “Every component of lavender can be put to use,” she says. “Strip the plants for the buds, then bundle and soak the stems and add them to your fireplace for an aromatic accent when burning wood, or place them in the barbecue to bring a subtle flavor to grilled chicken.”
Lavender’s essence provides a pleasant addition to spirits, according to Will Simpson, bar manager for Sonata’s Restaurant in Scottsdale. “I love to use conventional ingredients in an unconventional way,” he says. “I am also drawn to ingredients that are Arizona-grown. Lavender is very light and pairs well with other herbs in small dosages. The key is to bring out flavors, aromas and sensory experiences in a way that has not really been done before. My inspiration for this cocktail was the Ramos Gin Fizz. We’ve taken it a step further for a more nuanced flavor profile.”
11⁄2 ounces gin
1⁄2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 ounce lavender-infused honey (see recipe)
3⁄4 ounce Creme de Violette liqueur
Combine ingredients in a Collins glass over ice and top with tonic water. Garnish with a slice of fresh lemon or lime and a sprig of fresh thyme.
1 cup dried culinary lavender buds
2 cups water
2 cups honey
In a saucepan, heat water over medium heat. Add dried lavender buds. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 2 cups of honey and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour over a fine sieve into a bowl; discard lavender. Cover and refrigerate overnight.