The wind blows through the endless lavender plants, creating a scenic montage of colours and hues. I see a smattering of lilac, mauve, violet, periwinkle, wisteria, thistle, amethyst, and purple, the shades seeming to scatter as the wind plays with the young flowers on their tender stalks. The fields are alive with the fragrance of lavender and it’s impossible not to lose my heart.
Provence in France may be known for its endless fields of lavender, but there's no need to cross the English Channel to get your fill of the pretty purple plants. The UK offers plenty of opportunities to forage for lavender. English lavender blooms across the country every year, from June to September. Named Lavandula angustifolia, the plant hails from the Mediterranean region, and draws its name from its ability to thrive in the cooler English climate.
It is widely believed that the Egyptians made perfumes with lavender. British Egyptologist Howard Carter wrote that when he entered Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1923, a faint scent of lavender could be detected, some 3,000 years later (Egyptians used lavender oil for the mummification process).
At a lavender farm shop in Banstead, Surrey, the helper lets me in on some history as he brings me lavender ice cream. Lavender is said to have been brought to Britain by Roman soldiers who routinely carried “first aid kits” with an assortment of herbs. The dates are not known, but Julius Caesar's legions are said to have carried lavender with them. “The Romans were aware of lavender’s many healing and soothing properties. They are said to have scented their public baths with lavender. In fact, the plant’s name is derived from the Latin word lavare, which means ‘to wash’,” he tells me.
In The Lavender Lover's Handbook, Sarah Berringer Bader writes that the plants are perfect for aromatherapy. "Lavender has been a staple in gardens across the world for centuries. [These] plants were introduced in England in AD 1265 and cuttings were often used as floor bedding to keep pests away," she writes. Since then, the hardy plant, which is extremely attractive to bees and butterflies, has spread its roots across the country.
A staple in English herb gardens, the fragrant shrub has many benefits, and is used in floral arrangements, in dried wreaths, and to make oil. The perennial herb is now also finding a permanent spot in the kitchen: it’s used in chocolate, desserts, beverages, cocktails, and beauty products.
In Hertfordshire, the sight and fragrance of row upon row of billowing purple plants that seem to disappear into the horizon take my breath away. The soft gray-green foliage, the dainty purple flowers, and the heady fragrance all combine to create the perfect setting for a day out.
This 25-acre lavender farm was set up in 2006 by Brendan Maye, once the managing director of the fine fragrance division of Wella UK, which then owned Yardley, an old English lavender brand. His interest led him to secure the lease of the field at Banstead, one of the original Victorian lavender fields. The family-run, organic lavender farm, located about 15km from London, is a popular visitor attraction throughout summer. Apart from offering a range of lavender products, English wines and gifts, the farm offers special experiences like deluxe afternoon tea and prosecco and paella sunset evenings. It runs a popular coffee bar and shop in Banstead, with a full-service glasshouse restaurant due to open shortly. “Lavender normally starts to bloom towards the middle to end of June and the peak time is July and August,” Maye says. The family is set to open a sister site, the Lavender Theatre, a 250-seat open air theatre that will showcase an annual season of plays and musicals against “a truly elegant backdrop”.
Nestled in the North Kent Downs, about 32 km from London, are the Castle Farm Lavender Fields. The patchwork of purple fields bloom from late June until the end of July, creating a spectacular sight. It has been farmed by the Alexander family “since 1892 when James Alexander brought down 17 milking cows on the train from Ayrshire in Scotland”. Castle Farm grows over 130 acres of the fragrant purple flower, making it one of the largest lavender farms in the UK. More than over 100 acres of the aromatic plant are distilled on the farm to produce pure, high-quality lavender essential oil that is used in aromatherapy, toiletries, perfumery and healing pharmaceutical products. Enjoy exploring the fields on your own or sign up for guided lavender tours and walks, picnics, and wreath workshops. Visit the farm shop, and enjoy a lavender overload: lavender ice cream, cakes, chocolates, and more.
As early as the 1500s, Hitchin’s established its reputation as a lavender-growing region. The Hunter family, farmers for more than five generations, have farmed Cadwell Farm for over 120 years. The family arrived in Hertfordshire from Scotland during the 1890s farming depression. The farm passed down to Alec Hunter and his wife Zoë in the 1970s. In 2000, they decided to partially diversify into lavender planting. What was meant to be a part of the family agricultural business soon had to be spun off. Today, Hitchin Lavender, situated on the gentle rolling slopes of Wilbury Hills, is owned and managed by Tim Hunter and Maria Noel Castro. They have added a sunflower patch, wildflower meadow, and cut flower area to add to the stunning views. “Our lavender is in bloom from mid-June until mid-late August while sunflowers bloom from late July to mid-August,” Castro says. Apart from exploring the farm, the on-site shop offers a range of teas, gins, chocolates, jams, preserves, oils, candles, and well-being products.
A working family farm, Somerset Lavender has been welcoming visitors since 2006. But the family hasn’t always grown lavender; originally Horsepond Farm was home to a herd of Jersey and Guernsey cows that produced creamy Channel Island milk. Located about 20 minutes from Bath, the farm offers plenty to do. Apart from wandering through the purple fields (and clicking zillions of photographs), you can explore the large flower garden, also home to some local wildlife. The two main fields are home to two varieties of lavender: the English variant and French variety. The lavender is harvested and distilled on site and used to craft a range of natural products (culinary, bath and body, gifts, bags, mists and fragrances) that are available in the farm shop. The café, with indoor and outdoor seating, offers light lunches, homemade cakes, and a range of beverages – the ideal way to round off your day. You can also head to the 6.5-acre sunflower field where you can walk and pick your own sunflowers to take home some sunshine.
Located on the West Coast of Norfolk, Norfolk Lavender is one of England’s most visited lavender farms. Founder Linn Chilvers originally ran a nursery and florists’ business but dreamed of setting up a lavender farm, and in 1932, he and Francis ‘Ginger’ Dusgate went into partnership. Since then, the lavender farm has become renowned for its quality and yield. The lavender oil is used in all Norfolk Lavender products, while the dried lavender is put to use in their restaurants, in hot meals, cakes, and ice creams. Apart from the ubiquitous farm shop, Norfolk Lavender has a range of other attractions: the Lavender Lounge (tearooms and restaurant), gift shop, animal gardens and play park, and the herb garden. The farm is the holder of the first National Collection of Lavenders and showcases more than 50 different varieties arranged in planted beds that reveal the differences between them. Don’t go back without some goodies, be it the body and bath products, CBD range, candles and diffusers, homeware, food and drink, or gift sets.