HALF PRICE OFFER Subscribe to Hampshire Life today 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

Spending just a few minutes a day enjoying nature can do wonders for your health (Photo by Matthew Roberts)

Undertaking Random Acts of Wildness for 30 days is proven to enhance your health and wellbeing says Lianne de Mello from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust...

Read more
Tue, 16:21

Celebrate the Queen’s 90th with a right royal bonanza at Bel & the Dragon in the quintessential English village of Kingsclere.

Read more
Tue, 10:49
From the path there is a great view of Deane House (private) where Jane met Tom LeFroy © Steve Davison

Head to the west of Basingstoke for a walk in Jane Austen country says Steve Davison

Read more
Tue, 10:30
The gardens are a hidden oasis (Photo: Fareham Borough Council)

Whether you stumble across its gardens, exhibits and café by chance or are a regular visitor, Fareham’s Westbury Manor conjures up plenty of surprises. Viv Micklefield stops off for a spot of time travelling

Read more
Mon, 14:42

The Burley Village Show is being held in the Manor Park, Burley, on Saturday 6 August.

Read more
Friday, May 20, 2016
Wheelwrights Cottage by Neil Howard (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0) via flic.kr/p/aimUNL. Edited with addtext.com

10 of best photos of Hampshire shared on Instagram over the past week...

Read more
Thursday, May 19, 2016

Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire is hosting an open day at its Equestrian facility on Sunday 12 June.

Read more
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
New Forest Marathon

Inspired by the antics of Eddie Izzard’s 27 marathons in 27 days? Why not take to the trails yourself and sign up for one of the county’s excellent running events. Claire Pitcher gives you a head start with her top routes

Read more
Monday, May 16, 2016
Beach huts and fossil hunting at Barton on Sea

Sunsets and seaside, motorbikes and pony rides, celeb spotting and fossil hunting, New Milton makes an eclectic destination says Emma Caulton

Read more
Thursday, May 12, 2016

We’ve all spent many an enjoyable summer’s evening in a beer garden or at a friends for a BBQ, but they all just seem so… typical

Read more
Monday, May 9, 2016
Luka and Bluebells by Kevin Friery (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0) via flic.kr/p/nou27r

It’s safe to say we all love Hampshire and everything it has to offer. The same certainly goes for our canine friends too...

Read more
Monday, May 9, 2016
Odiham Castle

With such a vibrant community, there’s something for all interests in Odiham, from foodies to history buffs says Claire Pitcher

Read more
Monday, May 9, 2016
Photo by Andrew Buuman

Ambitious plans have been launched in Southampton for the city to host a massive sailing week in 2017. Details were unveiled recently at the Royal Southampton Yacht Club with local entrepreneur Chris Rees behind the new venture.

Read more
Friday, April 29, 2016
Anniversary tour

Charlotte Tomlinson-White has scoured the county to bring you the top events taking place this month

Read more


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Hampshire's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search