Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 19 August 2013

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 :)

14 comments:

  1. Looks brilliant, may well join you in keeping an eye out for visiting times next year.

    We tried to make lavender fudge a few years back without any of the precision that you mentioned - and yep, definitely tasted of soap! May have to try again sometime, and this time follow a recipe.

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    1. Hi Jenny - I thought it worth repeating the warning - I usually have a bit of a 'bucket' approach to cooking, which looks like it'd fail when using lavender!

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  2. That looks to be a very interesting day out, thank you for sharing it with us. I've never tried cooking with lavender, might just give it a go next year!

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    1. We had a great time, hence my listing a number of other places, so as many people as possible can go next next year :)

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  3. Nope, I've never taken to lavender in cooking, though culinary lavender would tempt me to try again. Another producer that makes a lovely splash in the area that was renowned for lavender growing in the 19th century in Surrey is Mayfield Lavender http://www.mayfieldlavender.com/

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    1. Thanks Helen - I've added your recommendation to my list :)

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  4. On holiday in France we once stayed in a cottage in the middle of a lavender growing area and often followed tractor loads of it on the way to the distillery and then were treated to the scented air created by the distilling process. It was also interesting seeing the special harvesters at work.

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    1. That must have smelled heavenly! I've seen the machinery, but have yet to see it in action.

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  5. It looks absolutely wonderful there. And very useful to be able to see all of the different varieties side by side.

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    1. It was so useful - I've decided on a quite different plant to replace my garden lavender as a result of seeing them in the field :)

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  6. Lovely description of Cotswold Lavender - I live not far from Snowshill & across the fields from Hidcote gardens (hence I also can't resist growing some of the Hidcote variety) and love cycling through the lavender fields. They smell as gorgeous as they look don't they and it's great to see so many varieties grown in a large area when you're choosing plants isn't it.

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    1. That's sounds idyllic and living where you do it'd have to be Hidcote wouldn't it? :)

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  7. Oh I love this! I've been obsessed with lavender since my trip to Provence and have actually sourced 3 lavender gardens in Yorkshire! yes!! However, not sure when I'll have chance to visit them and likely now to miss the lavender this year. I read about a place in Wales recently and thought lavender farms in this country would be rarer, I'm so pleased there are a few.

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    1. Hi Anna - presumably 1 of them is Yorkshire Lavender. It'd be great to know where the other ones are to add to the list!

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