On Hawaii's Haleakala volcano you'll find all things lavender -- crafts, soaps and recipes.
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Kula, Hawaii — Alii Chang and Easter Martin have introduced a new crop — and unique tourist attraction — to the fertile slopes of the Haleakala volcano.
It's lavender. Or rather, 27 kinds of lavender totaling 11,000 plants growing on three slanting acres. Not in rows, of course, but in undulating beds.
"I can't work in straight rows," Chang says, his ruddy face registering dismay at the prospect. "I have to work with aesthetics. I want my garden to look like a Monet painting."
Chang is the "lavender engineer" at Nanea a'o Kula. Martin is the "lavender scientist." The lavender tea we're sipping and the lillikoi jelly with lavender we're spreading on lavender scones are some of her products.
This is one of the lavender farm's morning teas, where guests can sample a variety of foods seasoned with lavender, hear Martin's sales pitch about the benefits of the fragrant flower, then follow Chang for a leisurely show-and-smell stroll through the lavender beds.
The lavender tea, a blend of chamomile, lemon balm and mint along with dried lavender, is so good I could easily become addicted. But lavender honey, lavender lemonade, lavender peach jam and lavender scones are just as irresistible. Lavender has what has often been called an intriguing flavor. I agree.
Martin comes up with the ideas for using lavender, and calls on other local entrepreneurs to develop some of them. "Jeannie the Bread Lady" of Kula bakes the scones for morning tea. "Dennis the Honey Man" infuses the honey, putting a sprig in each jar. Shirley Buetler of Upcountry Jams and Jellies makes the jellies.
Nanea a'o Kula also makes a lavender herb salt, lavender sugar, lavender vinegar and lavender herb dressing.
The only rule for cooks who want to experiment with lavender on their own, Chang says, is to take care and not use too much. "A little lavender goes a long way," he says.
Martin points out that lavender does not dissolve. So lavender sugar and lavender herb salt are a bit crunchy, and our lavender scones have little dark flecks of you-know-what.
Lavender is a member of the mint family. The flowers are varying shades of violet, the leaves are green or pale gray, and the plants are different heights. It's the floral, slightly earthy fragrance that attracts many people.
The leaves are most aromatic. As we walk around his lavender beds, Chang urges us to pinch off leaves to smell the difference. "Try this one," he says, pointing to a plant of medium height. "The lady from Gourmet magazine said she would use this one with chicken." We all break off a stem, sniff and nod approval; who's going to argue with the woman from Gourmet?
Moving on, Chang points to another bed with another variety, gives the botanical name for the plants, and adds: "They're English ladies. They're so contained."
French lavender from Provence and English lavender, planted lavishly in old-time country gardens, are perhaps best known. Spanish lavender is popular, too. But lavender now is grown throughout the United States.
Chang planted his first lavender beds in 2001 and has been constantly expanding. Out come the old protea bushes and in go new lavender plants. It grows well here on the side of the volcano, Chang says, because it likes the sun, thrives in dry conditions, doesn't require fertilizer and doesn't need to be watered.
Eight of us — seven kamiaina (Hawaii residents) and this part-timer — are following Chang through his garden. Luckily, we all remembered to wear good walking shoes and brought hats to protect us from the sun.
Guests can visit the gardens and studio/gift shop on their own if they wish. From the parking area, "just follow the steps with the lavender railing," Martin says. Or, they can come for a lavender lunch prepared by cooks from Mama's Fish House restaurant down on the coast, or a morning tea, as we did.
Martin's studio/gift shop has bunches of lavender hanging from the ceiling to dry, wands of lavender to tuck into a linen drawer, soap and lotions of lavender. Just outside the door, flats of lavender are drying in the warm sun. On a nearby table, wreaths of lavender, made in one of Martin's classes, are drying.
There's more to come, Chang and Martin promise. "Lavender has been around forever," Chang says. "It's finally coming into its own."
Looking at the big pasture behind his farm, he adds:
"Maybe I'll plant that whole hillside. Then it will be a real lavender farm."
Woodene Merriman writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Roses, gardenias, jasmine, honeysuckle and lilacs all share a single endearing value: Fragrance.