Monthly Archives: May 2016

Purple Passion

Garden Scene


Photography by Addie Strozier

Photography by Addie Strozier

A lavender farm in Dearing is heaven-“scent” bliss for the owners and visitors alike.

Most people love to entertain friends and family at their home. However, Lisa Kessler of Dearing, near Thomson, takes her Southern hospitality a step further. She opens up her home, White Hills Farm, to the community.

As a lifelong educator, though, she doesn’t just entertain her guests at the 30-acre lavender farm. The former middle school science teacher and college educator shares her knowledge with them as well. 

Lavender-CuttingA Happy Accident
Lisa offers tours and demonstrations at the organic farm that she and her husband, Ben, bought in 2008 as a recreational property. They had searched and searched for a place to plant hazelnut trees, and the Dearing property, which is located along the fall line, proved to be the ideal location to plant their orchards of 60 hazelnut and 30 pecan trees. And then they had another idea.

“Lavender was just kind of an accident. We threw some out with the trees, and it grew well,” says Lisa. “People started wanting what we had, and I like it, too.”

Lisa grows about 10 different kinds of lavender on the farm, where 1.5 acres are under true cultivation. She often buys starter plants from organic sites. Then she grows them to a viable stage and puts them in ground. She initially grew Spanish lavender, which grows well in the South. She then added English lavender to her garden.

“Everybody will say that French lavender is the one they use in products, but they don’t use French lavender at all,” says Lisa. “They use English.”

English lavender, which actually comes from Bulgaria, is used for culinary purposes, she says, and Moroccan lavender is good for aromatherapy. The deep purple Phenomenal lavender holds up well in the humidity of the South. 

In 2010 Lisa went to the Oregon Lavender Festival for a 10-farm tour to learn more about growing the herb. “I started planting differently after that, and I started to propagate a lot of my own,” she says.

Lavendar-Tour-GroupWhite Hills Farm is one of the few lavender-growing farms in the South, says Lisa, and the lavender is hand-grown and harvested on site. The lavender begins to bloom in late April or early May, and it reaches the height of its season in late June.

“Lavender likes to be high and dry. It doesn’t like to be watered a lot,” Lisa says. “Don’t water it unless it’s extremely dry. When you water it, water it around the base and let it absorb from the edge.”

She grows her lavender in a mix of poultry manure, crushed oyster shell and white sand. She has two cutting gardens for lavender, which she uses for products, and she also has planted lavender along a sidewalk on the property. 

“They would normally be in a calcium-rich soil,” Lisa says. “In the Mediterranean it grows on rocky hills in its natural habitat.”

However, she shares another recommendation for growing lavender – and other plants – as well.

“One of the tricks to organic is to plant close to yourself,” says Lisa. “You’re more likely to use it.”

Taking her own advice, she grows her lavender near the 1890 farmhouse where the Kesslers live. Of course, the house became a project, too, as they followed a Katrina Cottage plan to add the porch area to the front of the house in 2011. (Katrina Cottages were developed in response to the need for alternatives to the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers where people in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities temporarily lived after Hurricane Katrina.)

Lavender-Lisa-At-DemoLost Art
That extra space has come in handy. During lavender season from April through July, Lisa holds tours and workshops almost every Friday (Details about the events are available at They recently built a new barn to hold classes, private parties and special events throughout the year as well. 

“People want to experience what they’re doing, and I want people to enjoy the time they spend out here,” says Lisa. “I want them to learn something they can take away and do themselves.”

About 30 people of all ages visited White Hills Farm for a farm tour and demonstration on making a lavender lip balm and a moisturizing balm.

“Lavender is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal,” Lisa says. 

With its medicinal aspects, she says, lavender can be used in soaps and cosmetics as well as for cooking. “You can get a whole lot of health benefits from lavender,” says Lisa.

She also says anyone who wants to make healing balms can choose different materials, depending on their essence or medicinal properties, for their products. For instance, she says, thyme is a good medicinal herb. 

“Just because something is natural or plant-based doesn’t mean it is good for you,” says Lisa, who also worked as a dermatology physician’s assistant in Savannah.

However, Lisa uses primarily organic products in the goods she sells, which include soaps, oils, cooking products and decorative lavender pieces. Her products are available through Augusta Locally Grown and at Red Clay Market in Liberty Square in Evans. And of course, her goods are available at White Hills Farm, where a large beverage dispenser filled with hibiscus tea is likely to be waiting for guests on the front porch. 

“All-natural products are really tough to find,” says Lisa. “It’s something affordable that you can do.”

lavender_Bottled-HerbsTricia Hughes of Augusta visited the lavender farm for the first time after she saw information about the tours online. 

“It’s something a little different. It’s just good to get out of the city and see farmland,” she says. “I just wanted to see lavender grow. I did not know lavender could grow here.” 

Robin Johnson, who has a store with repurposed pieces, visited the farm from her home in Warren County. “I’m interested in agro-tourism,” she says. “I came to get ideas and be inspired.” 

Linda Smith of Uchee, Alabama, whose daughter is an educator at Hickory Hill in Thomson, has been to White Hills Farm twice. She has enjoyed seeing the farm grow, and she appreciates its link to the past.

“It’s a wonderful way to keep connected. We’ve lost that art,” says Linda. “This is coming back to what we’ve lost.”

By Sarah James


Deep Grooves and Hot Licks

A & E

 Ronnie Earl & The BroadcastersHaving the blues is a good thing at this annual concert in Thomson.

A small town event offers big time appeal at the 23rd annual Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival in Thomson. Musicians travel from across the country to entertain audiences at the festival that is named in honor of the Thomson native and blues guitar pioneer of the early 20th century. This year’s concert lineup includes Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, Cash Box Kings, Buckwheat Zydeco, The Deslondes, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton and Bruce Hampton and The Madrid Express.

Although few of McTell’s recordings earned mainstream popularity, his influence on the modern music and art scenes is well known. Some of his songs, including “Statesboro Blues” and “Broken Down Engine Blues,” have been recorded by famous artists such as the Allman Brothers, Taj Mahal and others.

Concertgoers are welcome to bring blankets and chairs for lawn seating. No pets or coolers will be allowed. Regional food will be available for purchase at the food court.

Pulling Strings
The annual Blind Willie McTell Music Festival is not the only way Thomson is honoring the legacy of its native son and influential blues musician. McTell’s 12-String Strut, a public art project featuring a dozen 7-foot polyurethane replicas of 12-string Stella guitars, is recognizing his musical contributions year-round. 

The 12-string Stella guitar was McTell’s instrument of choice, and local artists have created designs for the guitars that are on display in Thomson and McDuffie County. The public art display combines art and history to provide interpretation and everyday exposure to the musician’s legacy.

The guitars in downtown Thomson – the central location of the display – include an audio box that tells McTell’s story and plays samples of his music. The project coincides with the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Year of Georgia Music, which will promote tourism with the state’s musical heritage, superstars and venues throughout the year. The guitars will remain on display for three years.  

If You Go:

What: Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival

When: Saturday, May 7; gate opens 11 a.m.; music begins at noon

Where: 1021 Stagecoach Road N.E., Thomson; (follow I-20 west to exit 172; take a right off exit ramp) 

How Much: $30 in advance; $40 at gate

More Info:

Joy Ride

A & E

Joy RideIs there a better way to celebrate National Bike Month in May than the 24th annual Lock to Lock Ride? While this ride will be just like the previous rides in many respects, the event will include a special tribute before the pedaling begins this year. Wheel Movement of the CSRA, a nonprofit organization that supports the local cycling community, will honor the late Andy Jordan, who passed away in October. He founded Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse and initiated the bike ride.

“He started the ride to show people what you can do with your bike locally and what we have to offer here. And it shows non-cyclists how many people do ride bikes in the area,” says his son, Drew Jordan, co-owner of Andy Jordan’s and coordinator of the ride. “It’s going to be an emotional day.”

Before the ride, Wheel Movement will dedicate a bike station, which will feature a plaque that honors Andy Jordan, at the canal headgates at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. The bike station will include air pumps and other bicycle service tools. 

“Andy was a vital part of cycling in the community. He remains with us in so many ways,” says Jim Ellington, Wheel Movement president. “We just felt like we wanted to do something in memory of Andy because he did so many things for those who enjoy cycling.”

The fact that the ride rolls on almost a quarter century after Andy Jordan founded it is a testament to his legacy as well. Each year more than 200 people participate in the ride, which begins at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. Cyclists can choose between two distances – 18.5 miles to the New Lock and Dam or a 37-mile round trip. Riders who choose the 18.5-mile option will need to arrange return transportation at the New Lock and Dam. 

The bike route follows flat, scenic terrain on hard-packed dirt and asphalt roads along the Augusta Canal. Fireside Outdoor Kitchens & Grills will prepare a meal at the New Lock and Dam, and some lucky riders can win door prizes there as well. Powerade and snacks will be available at rest stops along the way, and the ever-popular Sno-Kone machine will be set up at Augusta Commons for the return trip. Pre-registered riders will receive a T-shirt as well.

“It’s a good way to spend the day with your family. It’s a very family friendly ride, and it’s catered to recreational riders,” says Drew. “The ride back is very pretty because the sun is starting to drop a little bit.”

Cyclists must wear a helmet and have a bike that is in good working order. Hybrid/cross bikes, mountain bikes or comfort bikes are recommended. Riders also should bring water, additional snacks and a flat tire repair kit. Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, or SORBA-CSRA, members will be available along the route to help riders if needed.

“We use all of the proceeds to improve cycling in some way,” Drew says. “We always try to put the money back into the community to make things better for local bike riders.”

If You Go:

What: Lock to Lock Ride 

When: Sunday, May 15; 12:30-1:30 p.m. sign in; 1:45 pre-ride briefing; ride starts at 2 p.m.

Where: Savannah Rapids Pavilion 

How Much: $25 if preregistered by 6 p.m. Thursday, May 12; $35 day of event 

More Info: (706) 724-2453 or