Creating a Lavender Field – Part 1

There is something about a lavender field that captures the imagination… Whether it’s the stunning purple hues, the distinctive calming scent, the gentle humming of the bees, or perhaps all three, we can’t quite say. One thing we can say however is that it’s a great conversation topic, and when asked what we’ve been up to, a reply of “we’ve planted a lavender field” always generates a lot of interest. There’s lots to say about the lavender field but this part 1 is a bit of an introduction.

We took the decision to plant a lavender field in 2016 with three key objectives; to provide lavender oil for our natural fragrances (our perfumes are all eau de parfum; and other products in the future…), to provide a superb source of nectar for our pollinators, and to create an attractive area to encourage the appreciation of nature.

Over the 2016/17 autumn and winter we spent lots of time researching, visiting other growers, and planning. Our first step was to plant a trial area of 800 plants, split across 5 varieties of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), plus the commonly grown Grosso, in order to learn by experience to help inform our larger, longer-term plans. In particular, the aim of the trial was to help us with the following:

  • how to prepare the ground for planting and growing lavender
  • where to source quality lavender plugs
  • how to practically plant on a reasonably large scale by hand
  • which varieties would take and thrive in our soil conditions
  • what the ongoing maintenance tasks and care of the plants would be
  • how to harvest lavender
  • how to distil the lavender to produce oil

 

A few images of the trial area:

Through speaking to and visiting other lavender growers (larger and smaller scale) we decided that planting through weed fabric would be the best option as we needed to control weeds but did not want to spray weed killer/herbicide. We were also unwilling to use sheets of plastic and after researching the options we found a French producer of biodegradable fabric made from corn starch which would last long enough to get our plants well-established.

Our first delivery of lavender plugs, and our lavender under snow in it’s first winter.

Trying different methods of creating the holes in the weed fabric to plant the lavender plugs was fun – especially using a long-handled weed burner which was a bit too efficient at burning large holes, so we settled on using a plug planting tool to punch holes in the fabric and dig a hole in the soil at the same time – we like efficiency and multi-tasking where possible!

In the newly planted trial area, a mole decided to dig a home and long tunnel under a third of one of the rows and cleanly exposed all the roots of the young plants – needless to say many of those plants did not survive and needed to be replaced. However, our fears of rabbits and/or deer decimating the young lavender were largely unfounded, except for some light nibbling of the plants near the edges of the trial area. At one stage we considered using a spray deterrent to keep the deer and rabbits away that is sprayed around the perimeter of the planted area – 2 options we were not that keen on smelled of putrid eggs and garlic, and the other apparently smells like lions…fortunately we took the decision to ‘see what happens’ and were grateful that we did not need to use either of these options!

Our lavender plants also survived a decent covering of snow in the first winter and the following summer we were delighted to see healthy looking rows of plants with the makings of the stunning rows of purple that we had hoped for. As for the pollinators, well they seemed to love it too.

Happily, the trial was a success and in 2018/19 we planted over 13000 plants in our main lavender field (of the Folgate variety – one of the favourite varieties for producing a high-quality oil).

We also distilled our first crop of lavender from the trial area to produce our very own lavender essential oil. Distilling lavender for essential oil, along with our adventures in creating the main lavender field are topics for future journal posts…