In a small valley off South Old Sonoita Highway, Wild Oak Farm is nestled among oak trees and lavender fields. The 13-acre working farm, which is holding a grand opening/“lavender bloom open house” on Saturday, June 17, is the culmination of owner Muriel Gardner’s childhood dreams.
“I wrote a letter to my mom at the age of six saying I hate New York and I want to live in the country where there are lots of horses and dogs,” she said. “I have literally been on that journey ever since, trying to get there.”
Gardner came to Tucson in the mid-’90s to study wildlife biology at U of A. “Settling into married life and raising kids, I soon became restless,” she said. “I wanted out of the Marana subdivision and convinced my husband to buy a house with three acres in northwest Tucson.”
The family bought horses, then chickens, then goats. The family began to visit lavender farms and goat farms, and got inspired enough to buy the Sonoita property in 2017. “I was hooked,” said Gardner. “It was time for me to follow my dream. I was led to a property in Sonoita. It was run down and needed love. I felt a real connection to the place right away and didn’t look at a single other property.”
While still living in Tucson, the couple began building animal enclosures, planting lavender, and fixing up the Sonoita property. They moved here full-time in 2018, and are now developing Wild Oak Farm into a business with multiple income streams. A casita on the property is now rented out on Airbnb, along with a recreational vehicle, with four glamping tents in process of construction. Wild Oak’s herd of goats, now numbering 14, provide milk for soaps and cheese sold at the Sonoita farmer’s market and other venues. The goats themselves are available for hire as hiking companions on the Arizona Trail, an increasingly popular option for Wild Oak’s Airbnb guests and visitors. Chickens, horses, dogs, and cats round out the farm’s charm and atmosphere.
It’s the fields of lavender, though, that are the anchor for everything else at Wild Oak. Gardner makes a range of artisanal goods derived from lavender, including bouquets, sachets, lavender lemonade, lavender infused desserts, lavender goat cheese, and natural lavender laundry products.
“My first season of lavender bloom felt amazing,” said Gardner. “I was in awe just to sit in the middle of the field and breathe in the scent, listen to the bees buzzing and watch the butterflies. I counted seven different species of butterflies through June and July last year. It was intoxicating.”
The country farm experience, of course, has its ups and downs.
“The fields need constant weeding and management,” she said. “Harvesting and processing all that lavender was a huge undertaking and the monsoons brought headaches. We lost quite a few plants to foot rot fungus, which we were eventually able to control. It was a tough defeat and I had to remind myself that these plants are a long-term investment of 20-25 years. I am learning, after all, and success always comes with some failure. My plants seem to be recovering.”
Gardner is appreciative of all the help and support she has received from folks in Sonoita, Patagonia, and surrounding communities.
Wild Oak Farm is holding its first open house on June 17, which will feature glamping tent tours, pick-your-own lavender bouquets, food trucks, a petting zoo, live music, farmstand products and shaded sitting areas. The event runs from 8am to 7pm, and is free. The farm is located at 26560 S. Old Sonoita Hwy.
Gardner can be contacted via phone at 520-331-5423, or email at Muriel@wildoakfarmaz.com.