Featherstone celebrates the versatility of lavender

Andrea Rogers' lavender — Susan Safford

The delicate aroma of fresh lavender filled the big white tent at Featherstone Center for the Arts Saturday afternoon, welcoming visitors to the first ever Lavender Festival. Display booths were set up around the edges of the tent. Tables with lavender tablecloths, lace runners, and red chairs offered a place to relax. Despite a steady stream of patrons, the atmosphere was mellow and relaxed as a lavender festival should be.

Some two dozen herb enthusiasts packed the Virginia Weston Besse Gallery to hear Heidi Schmidt-Laliberte, founder of Vineyard Sound Herbs, share lavender information and lore. Under the stern gaze of Stan Murphy portraits, she began with an article from the Dukes County Intelligencer printed many decades ago lauding the Island as a place of health, healing, and rejuvenation.

“Lavender! It is endless, the virtues of this plant,” Ms. Schmidt-Laliberte said with affection for the aromatic and versatile herb. A former Islander, she now lives and operates her herb business in Vermont.

Although some scientists discount the therapeutic benefits of herbs, Ms. Schmidt-Laliberte said the American Botanical Council, of which she is a member, has done many studies indicating their health-enhancing value.

She said that according to various reports, lavender can combat wakefulness, improve sleep quality, soothe an upset stomach, bring about relaxation, and even increase interpersonal trust.

As Ms. Schmidt-Laliberte dispensed tips and anecdotes, participants sampled herbal teas, sniffed sleep-encouraging spray and lavender oil, and viewed lavender plants up close.

Under the tent, gallery manager Kate Hancock greeted visitors and vendors. She had suggested the idea of holding a Lavender Festival after visiting one in New York State. Featherstone issued an invitation for vendors and exhibitors, and the festival took shape.

If there had been a blue ribbon for enthusiasm and creativity, it would have gone to Milla Clarke, 10, and Graysen Kirk, 11, for their attractive table and lovely handmade products. The young entrepreneurs learned about the festival while attending art classes with Featherstone’s Miss Lani.

“The girls have been invested in doing this for months,” Cara Lane, Milla’s mother, said.

Both she and Lucinda Kirk, Graysen’s mom, stressed that their daughters did all the work on their own. The girls sold wares including goat milk–and–lavender soaps adorned with sprigs of lavender, luscious body lotion with rich oils and butters, lavender eye pillows, and more.

The close friends researched ingredients and techniques online, worked together on products, then set up their table with print covers and tiny lights. They had sold almost everything and were happily cavorting on the grass, excited about future opportunities to show and sell their crafts.

“Lavender is a good introductory herb to get people into herbal medicine,” Holly Bellebuono of Vineyard Herbs Teas & Apothecary said. “People often don’t know where to begin. A lot of people begin with lavender.”

Ms. Bellebuono displayed her healthful and delicious tea blends, herbal oils, tinctures, and skincare items. Festival features were rich lavender face cream and a refreshing spray.

Peggy Turner Zablotny presented a striking display of her newest creations, gossamer silk scarves printed with her floral collage designs. Ms. Zablotny, whose specialty is botanical compositions using plants she grows or collects, usually sells her designs as prints and cards. Now printed on delicate scarves, they become an elegant and utterly unique fashion accessory, artwork wearable with any summer outfit.

Heather Thurber described her pampering body-care products to rapt listeners.

Along with lavender items, she offered other sweet-smelling herbal products, including body butters, scrubs, and soaps, all using plants from her garden.

Sheila Fane showed captivating scenes created from handmade paper. The wet pulp is dyed before assembling. Fanciful landscapes were done in shades of purple, bright turquoise, and blue. Some incorporated natural elements — grasses, seaweed, and milkweed pods.

“I didn’t realize how many things I had with lavender and purple in them until I was talking to Ann [Smith, Featherstone director] about the festival,” Ms. Fane said.

The Scottish Bakehouse served delectable Lemon Lavender Cake with bright lavender-flavored frosting, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies with lavender — an irresistible combination.

Andrea Rogers, known for her homegrown lavender products, greeted visitors with her usual sunny smile. A big basket of freshly picked lavender bouquets was her table’s centerpiece, surrounded by sachets and eye pillows.

“I had a fabulous day,” Ms. Rogers said of her brisk sales. “It’s lovely being here. The backdrop is beautiful.”

For those inspired to try their hand at growing, the Middletown Nursery booth offered several varieties of potted lavender plants and other herbs that combine well with it.

Roxanne Kapitan, manager of Oak Leaf Landscape, who specializes in organic vegetable gardens and oversees a large production nursery for Middletown, sent satisfied customers off with lavender plants and advice to help the herbs thrive.

Also at the booth was Ms. Schmidt-Laliberte, who joined the Middletown staff as visiting herb grower and consultant for the early summer weeks. Both said they were delighted with the festival and looking forward to next year’s event.

“This was so much fun,” Ms. Kapitan said with a grin.