Saturday, 20 July 2019

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, Lavender's green

When you are king, dilly dilly, I shall be queen.
Lavender's blue is an 'olde' English folk song which originated almost four hundred years ago.

As the early evening sunlight lit up the Lavender in our garden, we were reminded that now could be the perfect moment to see a Lavender crop before harvesting begins in earnest. There are several English Lavender farms around the country, but the one we visited is local to us in the Cotswolds. 
Growing Lavender in England is a tradition going back for more than two thousand years. Lavender is a mediterranean crop brought here by the Romans. It has always been highly prized for its antiseptic and healing qualities, as well as for it's unique fragrance. 

The day of our visit was very warm, the bees and insects were busy, 
and the air was enveloped in the balmy fragrance of Lavender - it was lovely.
I think this is the rather diminutive Leafcutter bee with it's black facemask. I was delighted to have some Leafcutter bees nesting in my 'Solitary Bee Hotel' last year. It is easy to tell what type of bee has arrived as the other two solitary bees that tend to come are the Red Mason bee and the Blue Mason bee both of which block off their entrance/exit hole using mud. Whereas the Leafcutter lines the tubes with leaves and also uses cut leaves to block of the entrance when it has finished the task. So far no Leafcutter bees have visited, but I have not given up hope as there are still six more weeks to go before their nesting season ends.
Forager and trailer
The foragers and attached trailers are all GPS guided. On the first harvest run they cut off the sides of the plants and then trim the tops of the plants on the second run.  When the trailer is filled with 5 tons of Lavender flowers it is taken into the distillery. The flowers remain in the trailer whilst hot steam is passed through it. The steam then passes through a condenser, and finally the condensate is sent away to have the essential oils and perfume extracted. The harvest and process is quick and efficient, and the newly cut and trimmed plants are ready for next year's growth.

When the Romans left England, Lavender was principally grown by monks in their physic gardens where it provided them with a whole range of herbal remedies. 
Lavender became entwined within English folklore. A lavender cross was often hung on the door to ward off evil spirits. In the 16th century it was effectively used to guard against cholera, and during the Great Plague in the 17th century people would tie Lavender bunches to their wrists to guard against infection. 

For the past three years the farm has been growing Camomile which thrives well on the free draining soil here in the Cotswolds.
The first recorded uses of Camomile was in ancient Egypt where it was used to treat fever. Crushed flowers were rubbed on the skin as a cosmetic, and its oil was used to embalm deceased pharaohs.
Throughout history Camomile has been used to treat a variety of ailments. In medieval times Camomile was thought to be almost a cure all. The most common way of enjoying Camomile's benefits today is in tea, especially just before bedtime. Camomile soaps, moisturisers and room fragrances are also popular ways to enjoy its properties.
The Camomile is harvested in the late summer when the flowers are at their peak. The crop is mown and allowed to dry for a day. It is harvested using a forager which gently lifts the crop before chopping it into short lengths and blowing it into the attached trailer. It is then steam distilled inside the trailers in the same way as the Lavender flowers.
But it's not only Lavender and Camomile! 
The farm grows several small meadow areas of wildflowers which create a lovely colourful display attracting a wide range of insects.