KUNA — Sitting in a lawn chair on the emerald green grass of her front yard, gazing out toward Stroebel Road, Lavender Merchant Marie Willis sees purple buds on her English lavender, but her lavadin lavender is still green.

This year’s winter was harsh on her farm, particularly May’s frost, but Willis is confident that in about 15 days, just in time for the festival, she will see buds on the lavadin lavender, which is a cross between the angustifolias lavenders and the spike lavenders. A variety of this lavender, called Melissa, is white with a pink center, and Willis says, is good for cooking because the taste is not as strong as other types of lavender.

On July 8-9, Willis will hold her eighth annual Lavender Festival, which is the same weekend as the city’s first Artists and Crafters event. The Lavender Festival is free to attend, and is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Since its beginning, the lavender festival has been held the weekend after the 4th of July, because, Willis explained, that’s when the lavender is ripe.

Willis and her husband, both retired, spend the morning hours weeding the lavender rows.

When the temperatures rise, Willis and her husband, Alan, retreat inside to do projects, or sit outside in the shade. Once the temperatures cool, they do a bit more weeding in the evening, totally about three hours every day.

The couple receive help sometimes from their daughter, son and their grandchildren. The whole family, and some good friends, put on the festival.

“They’re so important to the festival,” Willis said, “because I get to mingle with everybody … they run the whole show.”

New artisans will also appear at this year’s festival, held at Willis’ farm at 2871 Stroebel Road. These artisans include a potter and a woman who makes quilts.

All artisan products are hand-made.

“I don’t have Scentsy or anything like that,” Willis said. “That’s the flavor I want for my festival.”

Returning include individuals who repurpose furniture, woodworkers, a woman who makes men’s and women’s hats, another woman who makes wallets out of bags, like the ones at TJ Maxx, and a woman who makes “amazing aprons and tea cozies,” according to Willis.

Willis hosts about 17 vendors for the festival, which she feels is the capacity for her 11-acre property.

Also, new this year, Willis is leasing a nearby field for additional parking.

Willis’ caterer, Maria Sestero of Sophie's Choice Designs, will also return with a menu featuring lavender dishes such as cookies, bread and lemonade.

For her third festival, high school student Renee Ross will provide entertainment from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

And, of course, event attendees are welcome, and encouraged by Willis, to pick their own lavender.

“I want it to be a relaxing opportunity,” Willis said, “to have lunch and pick lavender.”

KUNA’S LAVENDER MERCHANT

Willis is a retired elementary school teacher, who taught in Kuna school district for 25 years. Willis primarily taught fourth grade at Indian Creek Elementary School and ended her career at Teed Elementary School.

She and her husband have lived in their Kuna home on Stroebel for 35 years.

Willis has always had a lavender garden. She got the idea to hold a festival from a magazine. She also visited a festival in Washington to see what it was like.

Willis spent this winter hand-crafting some of her staple lavender products, and a couple of new ones, for this year’s festival from last year’s lavender harvest. The “perishable products, like lotions, creams, sugar scrubs, Willis makes closer to the festival. Returning products include soap, lotion, sachets, linen sprays and bath teas.

Willis said she tries to include new products every year, after finding ideas in magazines, books, on the internet or shopping.

One new product this year is a lavender hydrosol. Hydrosol is the byproduct of distillation, Willis said. Another new product is a rosewater-lavender cooling mist. This is made from rose hydrosol and lavender essential oil.

“Sometimes I see a product and tweak it someway to make it mine,” Willis said. “To me, that’s a lot of fun.”

Alx George is the Kuna Melba News reporter. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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