A tour through the Lavender Ranch™ in Biggs is a sensory experience.
Anyone who has ever used lavender-scented products is familiar with the aroma--sweetly floral with a slight herbaceousness. Usually this scent is mild, but as you walk into the Lavender Ranch’s™ gift shop to start a tour, it seems as if you can suddenly feel that aroma. With bundles of fresh and dried lavender, lavender-infused soaps and lotions, lavender essential oils, and more lavender filling the space, the collective mildness has an almost overwhelming presence.
Leaving the gift shop to start the tour, the lavender aroma fades but lingers. Even if you weren’t just about to enter the lavender fields--just mere paces from the gift shop--the scent would stick to you for a while. But with the fields just past the large central oak tree and around a small bend, a hint of lavender fills the air throughout the entire ranch.
As you step out from behind the bend, you can finally take in the extent of the ranch and its lavender fields. The acres of gently rolling lavender bushes draw your attention first, with the eponymous lavender purple filling the landscape. The purples range from deep to light hues, and have a life and vibrancy that the dried lavender inside the gift shop lack. As you walk through the different plots, you are encouraged to pick a piece off the different varietals so you can rub it between your fingers to release its scent and pick up on its nuances.
It’s not just lavender, though. With 16 different botanicals grown on the ranch--including basil, chamomile, and sage--you can explore the scents of a variety of different plants in their natural forms during the tour. Rubbing a leaf of the lemon verbena, for example, releases a sharp citrus, citronella-like aroma, a stark yet pleasant contrast to the lavender’s sweetness.
What makes the tour uniquely special is knowing that you’re exploring an actual working ranch--each plant that you see, touch, and smell ends up processed, distilled, and bottled right on site at the historic Bayliss Ranch, home to the Lavender Ranch™ and Bayliss Botanicals.
Bayliss Ranch didn’t start off in botanicals. When Civil War veteran and ranch forefather Aaron Bayliss founded it in 1865 with his five brothers, they harvested wheat. After extreme flooding in 1880 destroyed their crops, they transitioned to rice farming. Through the decades and a few moves, the Bayliss family continued rice farming and added other crops, including a walnut orchard.
In 1983, Aaron Bayliss’s grandson Daniel Bayliss, Jr. passed away, and his wife, Donna, assumed executive control of the ranch. Under Donna’s control, Bayliss Ranch grew into the organic botanical industry model that it is today. Donna replaced the exhausted walnut orchard with organic botanicals and an on-site distillation facility, returned the land to the original organic farming methods the family used in 1865, and became an advocate for certified organic ingredients.
In the course of Donna’s advocacy of organics in California and the nation, she was able to get the ranch certified organic in 1998. Later in 2005, the USDA recognized Bayliss Ranch as a producer of 100% certified organic agricultural products. With that label, Bayliss Ranch is able to define and guarantee the difference between their pure, unadulterated distillates and lower-quality synthetics.
With an organics certification, you can’t actually explore the distillery while at the Lavender Ranch™, due to specific regulations in place, but the relaxed and informative tour through the fields alone is worth the trip. The love Donna Bayliss has for the land has been passed on to the people who work there, from the tour guides to the farm workers you’re likely to see tending the fields during your 30-45 minute tour.
As the guides take you through the trails, they’ll also take you through Bayliss Ranch’s history, which is highlighted throughout the ranch. The large oak tree you passed on the way to the field has been on the grounds since the 1800s. The beautiful ivy-covered rice silos and headhouse still stand tall on the property; from working rice silo to a distillery building for the botanicals to a wedding chapel, they now are simply picturesque reminders of the ranch’s past. The gift shop was the property’s original homeplace. And they’ll tell you that Bayliss Ranch still grows and harvests rice, as it has since 1880.
You’ll quickly learn that Bayliss Ranch is more than its past--everyone who works there strives to support a sustainable farm in the present for a better future. Drought-tolerant plants to conserve water are used, as much of the natural habitat is respected and maintained as possible, and beehives on the ranch produce lavender honey and assist in natural pollination. The ranch also works to minimize waste, such as using by-products left from distilling plant material as a natural weed control and recycling bulk containers for livestock and horticultural use.
The tour ends back where it started--at the gift shop filled with that potent yet soothing and mildly sedative lavender sweetness. The plants you’ve just returned from touching and smelling are the same that fill the soaps, lotions, and essential oils available at the shop. Maybe you’ll pick up a bottle of lavender lotion or a bar soap with a peppermint and rosemary blend. Perhaps, instead, you’ll buy a few bouquets of French lavender to take home. Or it could be that you need to think on it, knowing that you can go home and order pure lavender essential oil that will be hand-bottled right on the ranch for you.
Even if you leave without buying anything, you won’t be leaving empty-handed. You’ll walk away with a new appreciation of lavender, of the history and continued sustainability efforts of Bayliss Ranch, of the smell of freshly plucked botanicals.
And as you drive home, the heady aroma of the lavender will cling to you, creating a sense memory of your time at the Lavender Farm.
Schedule a Tour
Farm tours are available by reservation only with a minimum of 48 hours notice in advance. The tours have a capacity of 20-25 people with a fee of $5 per person with no charge for children under 10. While the peak season for tours is May through July when the lavender is in bloom, you can still visit the ranch to see the grounds and other botanicals year-round, weather permitting.
The field trails are primarily flat and wide and have accommodated guests with wheelchairs and walkers. However, tours are on dirt paths, which may be a little bumpy. Closed-toed shoes and sunscreen are recommended on your visit.
Visit www.lavenderranch.com or call 530-868-5151 to reserve a tour at 17 W. Rio Bonito Road. The Lavender Ranch™ is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.