Touring the Land of Purple Flowers
Lilac-colored Jacaranda trees dot the landscape of Haleakala Highway, their bright flowers hinting at a purple fantasyland yet to come. My best friend, Surlene Grant, and I are winding our way through Maui’s Upcountry, a bucolic region that many sand-and-surf worshipers might miss. Our destination is Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm (AKL). As we bump along the rutted road leading to the entrance, I brace for an overwhelming assault on my nose.
Instead, the floral scent wafting through the slightly humid air is delicate. AKL is an understated delight to all five senses.
We begin with a taste of this fragrant flowering plant – tea and scones on the deck of the cozy gift shop. Yes, that’s lavender tea and lavender scones. I’m skeptical. Pot pourri as cooking ingredient? We sit at the wooden table under the patio umbrella and sample the goods. Not bad. In fact, the scones – soft, buttery and hot from a nearby toaster oven – are delicious.
Wearing a purple AKL t-shirt, our tour guide Jodie Kaea gives us the numbers: 13 acres, 45 plant varieties and more than 50,000 plants. We visit in June, too early to witness the vibrant purple flowers that bloom across the hillside later in the summer. But the flatlands of the farm and its gardens brim with flora of lighter shades. The steady thwack of a hoe sounds as a straw-hatted worker tends a field. The short, round lavender bushes are lined up in checkerboard formation.
Along a path looping the grounds, Jodie points out vegetation that range from lavender to succulents to orchids to Tuscan olive trees. “This is English Lavender,” she says, plucking two long sprigs tipped in purple flowers from a nearby bush. “Smell how strong the fragrance is, almost a menthol quality. Now, squeeze it and the smell is more pungent.”
Our tour proceeds like that, hands-on, with Jodie encouraging us to feel and smell the differences in varieties. The French Dentata, with serrated leaves, can be found in decorations and also makes a potent martini. The Spanish “Bunny Ears,” each stalk topped by tiny vertical leaves, repels insects.
When we return to the gift shop, we can buy perfumes, soaps and lotions, as well as the standard t-shirts, mugs, ball caps and refrigerator magnets. The whimsical surprises include lavender-flavored brownies, popcorn, salad dressing, citrus household cleaner and dog biscuits with peanut butter. You can even ask for a scoop of lavender-lemon sorbet.
Facing south from the hillside, Upcountry is a patchwork quilt of pale green sugar cane fields, dark green forests and land the color of lightly tanned suede. The towering West Maui Mountain range looms, shrouded in clouds. Jodie is right when she says that, above all else, lavender reduces stress. As I inhale its sweet fragrance while taking in the postcard view, all of my cares drift away.