Saturday, 2 July 2022

Lavandula angustifolia

Growing Lavender in England is a tradition that goes back for more than two thousand years. Although lavender is not a native plant it thrives well, especially in this Cotswold area, where it loves our alkaline soil and fast-draining hillsides. It is indigenous to southern Europe, the Middle East, Persia, and parts of Africa and Assia. The Romans brought lavender to us, as they did to other northern European countries that they conquered, including southern France. The Romans greatly prized lavender, they place bunches of it between their sheets to safe guard against bedbugs, and used it when washing their clothes to repel moths and lice. In their Bathhouses, they steeped bundles of lavender into their bathing water.

Following the departure of the Romans, interest in cleanliness seems to have declined, but during the early medieval period, lavender was resurrected in abundance by the large number of Abbeys, Monastic Houses, and Priories up and down the country. The Monks grew it in their herbal gardens and used it extensively in their medicinal potions. The Monastasic Houses provided the only hospital care, and medicine that was available then.

In the 16th century lavender was established as the 'herb of cleanliness and calm' and used in every room of the house. It was laid amongst clothes to prevent moth damage, scattered in beds to deter vermin, hung in bags to freshen the air, and mixed with charcoal to clean the teeth. The new import, tabacco, was scented with lavender, both for smoking and snuff. Queen Elizabeth 1, was known to have a sweet tooth and was fond of a lavender conserve for which the flowers were steeped in sugar. During the Great Plague of 1665, the price of lavender soared. Great bundles of lavender were burnt in halls and churches in order to cleanse the air, and those who could afford  to purchase a vinegar made from the lavender flowers wore it in hope of fending off the plague.

The peak of lavender’s popularity can perhaps be attributed to one formidable woman, Queen Victoria ~ she loved it…. This in turn encouraged most other Victorian ladies to follow suit.  

The resurgence today in English lavender is partly due to the French production now in decline, which is mainly due to many of today’s perfumes being made from chemical concoctions.

Lavandula angustifolia - common lavender

Over the years in England we have produced cultivars of Lavandula angustifolia, which are compact and floriferous. Lavandula Hidcote, cultivated by Lawrence Johnston, is generally considered amongst the very best, alongside Munstead, which was Gertrude Jekyll’s favourite. Hidcote is now the plant of choice for garden lovers around the world, due to its rich purple colour.

48 comments:

  1. Such beautiful photos! Now I understand the connection between lavender sachets and bed linens! My grandmother, who was born in the Victorian age, loved lavender too and had little sachets tucked everywhere.

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    1. I do believe that I still have some little sachets too in my cupboards somewhere.

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  2. I love lavender, thanks for this wonderful history and great photos of it!

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  3. Dear Rosemary, thank you so much for these exceptional photos - bathing in lavender blue - a wonderful refreshing sight! About the smell I have a bit mixed feelings - I like it, but on a journey as a child through the Provence in a hot car I got sick of it among all that "perfume" fields (as my most beloved triplet who has a very strong sense of smell) - so: I like it, because my sweet grandma used "Uralt Lavendel" as perfume - and I had Hidcote and Munster in my garden - but it does not help me to go to sleep faster.
    A curious question: the lovely Lady on the photo is...guess I right?

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    1. Dear Britta - it is not a perfume I would use either - but I love it in my garden. I don't think you guessed right Britta - the answer is below.

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    2. I thought it was you, Rosemary! Dressed appropriate to fields of lavender.

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    3. Sorry to disappoint Britta - she is only about 20 years old, and I am a Grand-mère of five who have all been to and finished university.

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  4. A wonderful discussion of lavender, Rosemary, but you cannot leave us in suspense any longer. Reveal the identity of the lovely young lady!

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    1. I don't know the identity of the young lady - she is a young Japanese tourist. They come to Oxford and then the Cotswolds. I believe they are following in the steps of Wm Morris, whom they greatly admire, and then often end up in the lavender fields. They dress in these pretty floaty outfits and take lots of photos of one other.

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  5. Lovely post on Lavender Rosemary. We have a couple of lavender farms on this Island and here at home have 2 hedges of lavender but they are coming to an end.

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    1. Lavender does need lots of love and attention when it finishes flowering - a really good hair cut is needed otherwise it grows leggy.

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  6. I had no idea it was still so important in England or such a long history of growing there. I watched 'Perfume:story of a murderer' when that film came out centered around the town of Grasse, the lavender fields there and the ancient laborious methods used then to make perfume all of which came as a fascinating surprise. I did several tours of the Cotswolds years ago but probably outside the season as I certainly missed seeing any fields like that.

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    1. The floral pendulum has gradually swung away from Grasse. The French Riviera has become a millionaires playground, The price of land has gone up and people don't want to work the land anymore. They'd rather build houses to rent to tourists. The perfume business in France tends to use chemically based perfumes now.
      The lavender fields here have very upto date equipment - i.e special tractors that can pick a row of lavender heads in next to no time. That is why they have those tracks running either side of the rows of lavender for tractor wheels.
      This Cotswold Lavender Farm sits on a high plateau - 1000 feet above sea level.

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  7. Lavendel...en favorit! Doften är magisk, den är lättodlad och tacksam. Tål torka. Lavendelvinäger ska jag testa att göra, bra tips!
    Ha en fin sommarsöndag...
    Titti

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    1. Dear Titti - how right you are dry weather really suits lavender very well. I have made lavender vingar too - I think that I got the idea from you several years ago. I like to run my hands through the lavender flowers as I wander around the garden.

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  8. Beautiful photos of lavender fields. I love those blue-tinted rows. About the scent of lavender I have mixed feelings. I find it a bit harsh and astringent sometimes, but enjoy mixing it with dried rose petals. There are several lavender farms on our island along with shops featuring lavender products. I have a few plants in my own garden, fewer than before as I pulled a number of them that had become woody and straggly looking. With our cool spring and early summer the ones that are left are just beginning to bloom.

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    1. Lavender will and should last for years, but unfortunately it does need attention otherwise it grows very leggy as you have experienced - it has happened to me too. The best way to keep them looking good is to religiously remove the dead flowers and then give the plants a good trim in September when the flowering season has ended.

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  9. So very interesting Rosemary, and thank you for the gorgeous lavender photos. Like many people, I really enjoy a bit of lavender in my life, and we have a couple of lavender bushes near our pool. I did not know the Romans brought it to the UK, they did introduce so many things to places they colonised. And now it is grown in many parts of Australia too, and the farms are a popular tourist attraction.

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    1. It appears that many areas of the world have lavender fields now Patrica, and yet the ones people are most familiar with in Provence appear to be on the decline.

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  10. Dear Rosemary,
    It must have been so special to walk amongst the beautiful rows of lavender. Your photogra[hs make it almost possible to take in their heady perfume. I grow a few Hidcote Lavender shrubs, not very successfully, but just enough for a few Lavender Bottles.

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    1. Dear Gina - I suspect that your lavender bottles are probably the same as what we refer to as lavender wands, where a bunch of dried lavender is woven together with pretty ribbon.

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    2. Yes that is what they are only I use fresh lavender, easier to bend the stalks.

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    3. 💚 my mistake, yes, I should have said freshly cut lavender - dried they would be too difficult to deal with.

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  11. I love these orderly rows of lavender, Rosemary! Years ago we saw similar from a distance driving through Provence and there's a couple of lavender farms in this land that can be visited, too, but we haven't as yet. One day!

    It's a delicious domestic scent and I like occasionally ironing with lavender water, for inst., but it's curious that it doesn't really appeal as a personal perfume.

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    1. The perfume is not for me either Pip although I love to smell its fragrant soft wafts of scent in the garden as I brush beside it in the still of the evening. There are so many other choices from the perfumery cabinet for us to choose these days. However, my choice still happens to be french, and it too comes from the fields of Provence - I love L'Occitane's Citrus Verbena.

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  12. Beautiful pictures of the lavender fields. I visited some near Hitchen a couple of years back and noticed that many of the signs were in Japanese; I asked about it and was told that they have many Japanese visitors who seem to have heard about it from the internet and have seen pictures in Instagram.

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    1. I know those lavender fields in Hitchin and their long history - the owners also owned a wonderful chemists shop on the High Street where they sold their lavender products. It closed in the early 1960s - the interior of chemist shop - shelving, apothecary jars etc. are all now preserved in Hitchin Museum, it is well worth a visit if you are in town.

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  13. Rosemary, wonderful photos and such interesting history of lavender.

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    1. Thank you Susan - pleased that you enjoyed.

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  14. They are a lovely sight to see.

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  15. I never knew that there lavender fields in England. I have always wanted to see them in bloom. May have to put Cotswold on my bucket list.

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  16. Dear Rosemary - I enjoyed the beautiful photos of vast lavender fields and history of lavender in your country. Lavender is one of the loved flowers blooming in June in Japan. Famed lavender farms are mostly at the places of higher latitude, Hokkaido, where summer is mild. I nodded what John wrote; Japanese would really love to visit.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - your fellow compatriots do love our lavender fields when they are touring here in June/July, and, the young girls especially, dress themselves in very pretty outfits.

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  17. What a great photos of the lavender!

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  18. And yet no mention of Norfolk Lavender. Norfolk Lavender is the foremost lavender growing and oil producing farm in the country. Products from the distilled oil are manufactured on site and sold all over the world. Norfolk Lavender is situated on the West Norfolk coast near to Kings Lynn and visits to the farm are welcomed.

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    1. Apologies to Norfolk Rachel - I have visited the Norfolk Lavender fields many many moons ago when I lived in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. It was in the early 1500s that Hitchin established its reputation as a lavender growing region and became one of only two major growing areas in the country. The other of course being Norfolk.

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  19. I left a comment but it seems to have disappeared Rosemary.

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    1. It did arrive Rachel - I have not looked at the blog until this evening.

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    2. Thank you Rosemary. Norfolk Lavender is an important industry here. (I forgot you had moderation turned on!)

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  20. Hello, Rosemary. I’ve learned about historical heat wave of Britain and Europe. It must be so unbearable to those who aren’t used to intense heat. Stay cool in air-conditioned room and have a parasol outside to make a shade. Take care of yourself from heat stroke and dehydration.

    Yoko

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    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts Yoko - today has been unbearable - far, far, too hot for me. I am now grateful that normally I live in a country that is far more moderate where the weather is concerned. Give me fresh air, clear skies and sunshine, but not this awful heat - my lovely lawn is no longer green, it now resembles yellow straw.

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