A Purple Patch - At Cotswold Lavender
|Part of the show beds at Cotswold Lavender which displays mass plantings of a number of |
different varieties. You can also see a little of the harvested beds towards the top of the picture
Lavender is for lovers true, Which evermore be faine; Desiring always for to have Some pleasure for their paine: And when that they obtained Have the love that they require, Then have they all their perfect joie, And quenched is the fire.
Clement Robinson in: A Handefull of Pleasant Delites, 1584 (possibly 1566)
Just when you think you've got lost, your nose tells you you're still on the right track and you're very close to where you want to be. Our visit may not have been perfectly timed (the lavender harvest had just finished), but there was still plenty for Victoria and I to discover when we visited Cotswold Lavender last Friday.
Note this is a farm not a garden, so there are plenty of farm buildings around and the lavender is cultivated as a crop, probably (I think) as part of a farm diversification scheme. The lavender was planted in 2000 and the precious oil is extracted via steam distillation on site.
Much has been said about the plight of bees this year, so it was heartening to be greeted by a very workmanlike hum as hundreds of them made their way around the flowers in the show beds. There were a number of different butterflies flitting about too. A further tick of approval from me was finding the field headlands are part of a rare arable plants conservation project, which aims to encourage biodiversity.
Even though harvesting was over, I was surprised at how much flower was still left on the plants. Victoria and I worked out this must have been partly due to the harvester turning round as the ends of each row had noticeably more flowers. We were also told later the harvester is pre-set to a certain height, so the younger growth doesn't get cut. This allows the plant to mature properly and maximises the oil content of what's actually harvested.
|Lavender 'Sawyers' - note the 'brashy' limestone soil - just like I have at home!|
I much prefer the deep purple kinds of lavender, but I'm keen to get away from my usual choice of 'Hidcote'. Good varieties for purple - according to the show beds when we visited - are 'Elizabeth', 'Grosso', 'Hidcote', 'Peter Pan', and 'Sawyers'.
It was good to visit on a day with a mixture of rain, dullness and bright sunshine as this allowed us to evaluate which lavenders looked good in a variety of conditions. 'Sawyers' turned out to be my favourite, which I hadn't looked at twice earlier when perusing the individual plants in the sales area. Its lighter green foliage contrasts well with the deep purple flowers and looked great in both sunshine and showers. 'Grosso' was also highly recommended by the farm's staff.
Another surprise for me was finding special culinary lavender for sale. I thought I could just use some of my flowers for cooking, but this isn't recommended. Naturally we tried some via the cafe - by sharing a generous slice of lemon and lavender madeira cake (recipe also available), which was delicious. There was just the right balance between the sharpness of the lemon and the sweeter lavender. We were told lavender recipes are the kind where precision is needed - add too much and everything tastes like soap - yuk!
I was also keen to see whether the use of lavender and garlic in cooking I'd heard about on Breakfast News the day before is recommended. The staff in the shop thought this was a bit adventurous, though a quick perusal of The Scented Kitchen, revealed a number of recipes with a middle eastern influence using this combination..
Cotswold Lavender is open until September 1st 2013 - the website is good for news re the progress of flowering and harvesting. A small charge is payable to walk around the site when the lavender is at its best - as we were visiting outside the peak time, our visit was free. Note that the show beds are also considered to have gone over now (as at 13th August) - I shall be keeping a closer eye on the best time to go when I return next year.
You may also like:
- Norfolk Lavender - the tale of our trip to see the national collection a few years ago.
- Other lavender places I've yet to visit are Wolds Way (warning: there's a dreadful flashing banner displayed at the top of their page) in Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight (another national collection holder). It's interesting to see the differences in the visitor experience on offer according to these websites. I'd say Cotswold Lavender looks the least commercially orientated place of the four options available.
- Update: Helen Gazeley has kindly added Mayfield Lavender in Surrey to the visiting list via her comment :)