6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Hampshire Life CLICK HERE

Lavender Fields Forever - Alton

17:15 14 December 2010

Lavender Fields Forever - Alton

Lavender Fields Forever - Alton

Lavender is more popular than ever. Sarah Peters talks to the owners of Lavender Fields in Alton to find out more about this evocative herb that is enjoying renewed popularity

Wide rows of nodding, purple flowers stretch into the distance towards dark, looming trees. The sky is clear blue and the flowers seem to be basking in the warmth. Bumble bees, drowsy with the scent and dizzy with exhaustion, visit each bloom and create a calming background hum. The air is heavy with the warm fragrance of summer: grass, sunshine and heavenly lavender. Welcome to Lavender Fields at
Hartley Park Farm!
Over recent decades lavender has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance. It used to be associated with dear, little old ladies, but as more people turn to natural remedies the demands for lavender and its essential oils have meant a whole new set of consumers have appeared on the market.
Lavender is well known for being a good all-round essential oil. It is used to treat a wide range of conditions from migraines and skin complaints to stress, depression and exhaustion. Its become a sought-after ingredient in aromatherapy and herbal medicine because its so versatile and can be used for both its antiseptic and calming properties. And, because it just smells nice, its also a fragrance used to simply scent a room.


Hopping to lavender
Tim and Anne Butler have grown lavender at Lavender Fields, just outside Alton, since 2001. They have a massive 24 acres of lavender fields which have become a local land mark (and in July something of a phenomenon) as the fields become a vision of dramatic purple.
My family have been farming this land for nearly 200 years, says Tim. We used to grow hops, but turned to lavender about 10 years ago.
The switch from hops to lavender was not an easy decision to make. There was not much research on growing lavender commercially and they had to learn a great deal in a short time.
Cultivating lavender on a large scale is very different from growing it in a garden environment. We were willing to farm lavender as its hardy and not prone to many pests and diseases. However, our main problem was weeds: how to keep them at bay!
The answer was to grow the plants through polythene and this seems to be working very effectively.
Best in their field
The Butlers chose to grow four main varieties of lavender for harvesting, each with its own characteristics and each used in a different way. Folgate has a mild aroma and produces a top quality oil. Maillette is originally from France and has a strong perfume ideal for essential lavender oil. Imperial Gem has a vibrant colour and is used exclusively for dried seed and bunching. And Grosso is a hybrid variety grown for its oil and its elegant, long stems, used bunches and sheaths.
It takes three years for the lavender plants to mature, Tim explains. Each plant has a lifecycle of between seven to 10 years. So once they are established, its a bit easier but during early years they can be a bit temperamental.
We harvest during July depending on weather. Once cut, it is immediately taken to the distillery, as it starts to lose oil from the moment it is harvested. The pure essential oils then have to be stored and aged (like wine) for six to nine months before it can be made into the final products.
All the drying, cleaning and packing of the lavender is done on site as well as the distilling and bottling, so it is a very busy place.


At home in Hampshire
Hampshire is not traditionally known for its lavender: not like Norfolk. However, the geology of the land lends itself to growing lavender because of its light, well-draining soil and sunny weather.
Lavender plants dont like to get their feet wet. They wont grow well in heavy soils. The geology of the land at Hartley Park Farm means that lavender can really thrive.
The distinctive aroma is found in all parts of the plant, but the essential oil is produced from the flowers and flower-stalks. The best time of day to harvest is in the morning as the yield will be greater.
Weve learned so much over the years, says Tim. Once the plugs
are established, then its a bit easier and by year four we are getting
the maximum oils we can from each plant.
Tim also has one acre dedicated to growing rosemary. Another pungent herb that requires similar growing conditions, it compliments the fragrance of lavender and a blend of the two essential oils is used to fragrance several of the hand and body care products.
The couple began selling their range of hand, body care and
home fragrance products at
Farmers Markets throughout Hampshire about 10 years ago.
They still travel to many of the markets, but tend to focus on their shop as the main retail source where there is an enticing array of lotions and potions and food made from or with lavender.

Mrs Lavender
Lavender has also been used as a culinary herb since Roman and Greek times and lends a delicate flavour to casseroles, scones and ice cream. It can be used in many recipes as a substitute herb for rosemary; especially roast lamb with lavender. Freshly cut flower heads can also be used to decorate salads and cakes. The food range at Lavender Fields includes delights such as Ice Cream with Honey & Lavender, Meringues with Lavender, Honey with Lavender. The Lavender and Lemon Biscuits are made locally using a recipe created by Tims wife, Anne, fondly known as Mrs Lavender.
The entire farm is permeated with the intoxicating scent of lavender, especially the shop. Does Tim ever get bored with the fragrance? Not really, he laughs. If anything I become immune to it and I dont notice it any more. I do appreciate it though and like the idea that our visitors can take a little bit of the magic home with them.



Tips on growing lavender


Well drained soil: ideally lime, gravel or chalk. Add sand if you have a clay soil.
Sunny position: ideally south facing as they will not flower if grown in shade.
Watering: throughout summer months water containers well. Plants in the ground should be self sufficient except during particularly dry periods.
Feeding: feed with potash once a year to improve flowering.
Pruning: cut back hard in August down to the old wood.


Lavender through time


The Romans introduced lavender to England.
The Egyptians used it for mummification and perfume.
During medieval times it was grown in monasteries for culinary and medicinal use.
During the 17th Centurys Great Plague people wore lavender on their wrists to protect themselves.
By Tudor times there were acres of lavender fields across the country and it was very popular. During the Victorian era, it was used as perfume and for flavouring food such as honey, jams and custard.
During World War One its antiseptic properties were of great importance. It was
even used to disinfect the hospital walls.



Hampshire Lavender growers


Isle of Wight Lavender, Staplehurst Grange, Staplers Road, Isle of Wight PO30 2LU. Tel. 01983 825272


Lavender Wheat Bags, 95, Garstons Close, Fareham PO14 4EU. Tel. 01329 846273


Long Barn Growers and Distillers, The Old Sheep Fair, Bishops Sutton Road, Alresford SO24 9EJ. Tel. 01962 738684

0 comments

Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

Tue, 11:13
Getty Images/iStockphoto

People love the thrill of staying somewhere different so we’ve compiled some vital info on some of the most interesting places to stay in Hampshire

Read more
Tue, 10:04
Steve Brown cycled 1200 miles around Britain to promote the Magna Carta anthem

Odiham is poised to celebrate its part in the 800th anniversary of the world’s most famous legal document. Graham Price finds out more about the village’s role in Magna Carta history and some of the exciting events taking place to celebrate

Read more
Friday, May 22, 2015
Getty Images/Creatas RF

With the current decline of the Great British High Street, this month Chris van Schaick shares his theory on why business could perhaps be so slow

Read more
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
West Green House plays host to a variety of outdoor operas

Summer is on the horizon and one of the best ways to enjoy those long evenings is with a picnic, a bottle of Champagne and a large dose of fun-filled entertainment at open air theatre productions across the county. Claire Pitcher brings you her top picks not to be missed

Read more
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Sunset over Southampton Shipyard (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Hampshire welcomes The Countrywide Great Tour this summer so we took a closer look at Southampton where cyclists will begin to arrive on 13 August as part of stage 41

Read more
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Macmillan Cycletta

Strictly one for the ladies, and a perfect way to spend a day with your friends exploring the British countryside on two wheels, Macmillan Cycletta is the UK’s leading women-only cycling sportive series, with a range of distances from 20km to 150km rides. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, the distances are challenging but very achievable.

Read more
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Buckler's Hard village street

Buckler’s Hard, the famous shipbuilding village on the banks of the Beaulieu Estate, is set to become more than a tourist attraction when doors open to the new Shipwright School this summer. Viv Micklefield met with the woman who’s resurrecting the maritime history of this important site

Read more
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Concorde. Photo: FAST archive

Not so long ago, Farnborough Aerodrome was home to some of the government’s most top-secret aviation projects. Now, thanks to a group of historic buildings enthusiasts, it’s possible to get a glimpse into this Hampshire site’s achievements. Viv Micklefield checks-in

Read more
Monday, May 18, 2015
Sea and sun looking towards the Isle of White from Barton on Sea © Steve Davison

Steve Davison heads to Barton on Sea for a coastal walk with views across to the Isle of Wight

Read more
Monday, May 18, 2015
Bullfinch on Feeder © Dave Kilbey 2008

Whether your outside space is vast or small, you can do your bit to make it wildlife friendly says Debbie Dawkins from the Wildlife Trust

Read more
Monday, May 11, 2015
Quay Hill

From stories of smuggling and sea salt to summer sailing and superb shopping, Emma Caulton celebrates living the high life in the seaside town of Lymington

Read more
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
New Forest Ponies Under Rainbow (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Barely a week goes by when we don’t hear on the news about the incredible strain our health system is under. Whether it’s overstretched A&E departments, or older people in our communities becoming frailer – it’s clear something needs to change for the NHS to cope.

Read more
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

20-21 June 2015, Minley Training land, Camberley, GU17 9UF. Take on the challenge of the Brutal Enduro this summer. This great event is organised by the Brutal10 team who deliver some of the best-known mud runs in the South East.

Read more
Friday, May 1, 2015
Following the Hangers Way towards Vann Farm after Point 2 © Steve Davison

Steve Davison heads to Hawkley for a walk in the South Downs National Park to the north of Petersfield

Read more

NEWSLETTER SIGNUP



subscription ad

subscription ad
Hampshire's trusted business finder