One of my earliest memories was the heady scent of lavender growing in the garden at my childhood home. Later with my own young family, many happy holidays were spent in the South of France enjoying the very special culture of the lavender growing region of Provence and learning about its fascinating history. From the wild growing lavenders on the hillsides, the huge fields of purple interspersed with sunflowers, to the beautiful stone villages with their shutters all painted in varying lavender shades – I was hooked!
Back at home, I subscribed to a publication (sadly now gone but much missed) that was dedicated to all things lavender. I read and researched as much as I could and when a plot of ground became available next to our house, I didn’t think twice about launching in with out thinking! Little did I know about the challenges to come!.
In 2002 we started with a trial plot of 200 lavender plugs but the first problem was how to create the trial beds – the thought of digging them all by hand was an enormous task. Luckily a farming neighbour knew of a keen vintage tractor enthusiast who needed no encouragement to drive his beloved tractor and to then plough up our first two beds which we planted with 100 plug plants each. Despite some determined efforts of the local rabbit population, the little plants did well and the next season we planted around 2,000 lavender plug plants. The lavender thrived – it loves our dry sandy soil and south facing slopes but we discovered that it was (and is still) a constant battle with weeds, wind, wet weather and rabbits. Rabbits love to nibble the younger plants to death and dig up the older plants so they can eat the roots. The only solution is to fully enclose the lavender rows with rabbit proof fencing – as we have more successfully managed to do with our latest planting, however, they still find a way in.
where we are now
2006 –We opened our Lavender shop in the field, initially selling lavender products and gifts made by others, and subsequently our own Shropshire Lavender range of hand made products using our own essential oil, as well as a wide range of specialist lavender plants. We also planted a small display garden in the orchard area, containing over 30 different varieties of lavender (which provide a long flowering season from early June to late September) planted in a radial pattern, with a lavender hedge border. Cherries, pears and apples hang above the lavender plants.
2007 – We love English AfternoonTea, so we opened our TeaGarden for our visitors to enjoy freshly baked sponge cakes, fruit cakes and lavender scones, teas, coffees and soft drinks. With the help of our son’s great friend we designed a website and opened our online-shop selling most of the products available in our farm shop.
2008 – After many requests we started offering Group visits, since then many WI ladies, photography clubs, cycling clubs, gardening clubs and other private groups have arranged to come and see the lavender fields, listen to talks on the lavender genus and distillation of essential oils and enjoy lunch (early afternoon visits) or tea (late afternoon or evening visits). We also held the first Chetwynd Medieval Fair in the next field celebrating the original fair (500 or so years ago) at nearby Chetwynd which received a Royal Charter from King Edward II in 1318. Always held the first weekend of July, this very enjoyable and successful event is now run and managed by medieval event organisers Plantagenet Events Ltd.
2010 – Special events. Each year we run one of two special events at the farm, which have included talks on artisan skills such as perfumery as well as the annual lavender essential oil distillation weekend. See our events notice for this year’s events.
2011 – a second lavender garden was planted up, containing additional lavender varieties with benches for visitors to sit on and enjoy the tranquillity of the lavender garden and the surrounding orchard
2012 – In spite of an horrid wet and dull summer, our lavender thrived and we still had record numbers of visitors and took a good crop
2013 – Ah! At last a decent summer! We enjoyed the sunshine and so did the lavender. More planting was done, our visitors loved the myriads of bumblebees and butterflies that flocked to the lavender and everything hummed. We invested in our own copper still so that we can now produce a small range of our special farm distilled lavender oil. We will continue to send the bulk of the crop to the distillery however.
We now have about 25,000 lavender plants in 3 acres of land cropped to produce a range of diverse products, that currently include more than 7 litres of lavender essential oil, over 1,500 dried lavender bunches and around 50gk of dried loose lavender. We also sell over 2,000 lavender plants each year. Three years ago we introduced ‘fresh lavender’ bunches throughout July only, and since then have enjoyed a growing number of customers ordering fresh lavender, especially for weddings, sometimes for funerals, and also for many other functions and events.
Hand processing – We hand cut all our lavender that is used for dried lavender bunches and loose dried lavender (for craft work, our own lavender bags and culinary lavender). It is dried in a large, open air Dutch barn, which dries the lavender slowly, retains its strong fragrance and avoids any unnecessary ‘flower drop’. The hand-worked processing is slower, but results in a much better quality product.
Commercial distillation – The main crop of intermedia ‘Grosso’ lavender is cut using petrol driven cutting equipment and distilled in commercial scale stainless steel distillation units, in order to produce it at an economical price. We use this oil in the manufacture of our hand made bathroom and body care products, and also sell the essential oil in 10ml bottles.
More lavender plants – We are in the process of planting 2,000 lavender plants dedicated to producing dried lavender bunches. To meet future demand we plan to plant an additional 5,000 of these lavender varieties over the next few years.
More hand cut, copper distilled essential oil – We intend to expand our hand-production of copper distilled essential oil across other varieties of lavender, in particular lavender intermedia ‘Grosso’. Customers that prefer this distinctive scent of intermedia ‘lavandin’ oil can also enjoy the enhanced aroma that is produced from the traditional copper distillation process.