CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

The secret of Surrey lavender

PUBLISHED: 11:01 06 June 2012 | UPDATED: 11:01 19 January 2016

Mayfield Lavender (Photo: Matthew Williams)

Mayfield Lavender (Photo: Matthew Williams)

Rows of hazy blue lavender stretch into the distance filling the air with its wonderful fragrance. Contrary to appearances, however, this isn't Provence - this is right here in suburban Surrey and the harvest is about to begin. JANET DONIN gets to the root of our county's horticultural heritage

Mayfield Lavender (Photo: Matthew Williams)Mayfield Lavender (Photo: Matthew Williams)

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine July 2008

***

Share your Surrey lavender photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos

***

It may be hard to believe today, but up until a hundred years ago, a vast swathe of Surrey was covered with miles and miles of gorgeous lavender. In fact, this aromatic herb was the main produce for the North Downs area where the chalky soil and mild weather proved the perfect conditions in which to grow this small evergreen shrub.

Companies such as Yardley and Potter & Moore founded their reputation on Surrey's lavender, and for a time during the early 19th century, the lavender fields of Wallington, Carshalton, Croydon, Mitcham and Banstead were suppliers to the world. Ladies loved the perfume as well as the healing properties of the oil. They also placed bags of fresh lavender among their linen, to keep away the moths, and used it to flavour jam, honey and custard.

Sadly, as cheaper French lavender flooded the market and suburbia sprawled, the blue fields gave way to homes in roads called Lavender Walk, Lavender Sweep and Lavender Gardens. Today, just two lavender growing areas survive - and they're now in full and glorious bloom.

New beginnings
Right in the heart of the area that was once the lavender capital of the world, Carshalton Lavender is an oasis of perfectly rounded, sweet smelling bushes, set among cabbages and onions, lettuces and beans - for it is here at the Stanley Road allotments that this little gem of an industry has once again become a viable concern.

Over the years, its chequered history has seen the land change from flourishing fields into much valued allotments after the war only to degenerate into little more than a rubbish dump. Some 12 years ago, however, the environmental charity BioRegional Development Group collaborated with a number of volunteers and inmates of HMP Downview prison to re-establish the once thriving industry.

"It was all part of a programme to regenerate old local industries," explains Roger Webb, a former trustee of BioRegional. "At the time, we chose the lavender project because of its link to the area. In doing so, we wanted to embrace the whole community and as Downview had an up-and-running horticultural programme it was ideal to get them involved, too."

Cuttings of traditional lavender varieties were collected from people living in the area then grown in the ambitious horticulture project within the prison. When the plants matured, prisoners on day release helped the BioRegional staff to clear and plant up three acres of the disused allotments.

"We had the first 'community harvest' in 2000," says Roger. "People were invited to pick their own lavender and the rest of the crop was made into 'local lavender' essential oil, which we sold through BioRegional and local shops."

The project proved such a success that three years ago it was decided to hand over the fields to be managed by local volunteers, under the name of Carshalton Lavender, and they continue to run it today.

A growing concern
A little further down the road, fanning out over some 25 acres of scented heaven is Mayfield Lavender - the largest organic lavender farm in the UK. Looking over the hawthorn and cowslip hedge, the endless rows of purple mounds can be seen reaching into the distance. Close to the entrance are the early blooming English lavender varieties of Folgate and Maillette; beyond is the French hybrid variety called Grosso that blooms a little later.

Mayfield is a dream come true for Brendan Maye, who a few years ago, as the UK managing director of Wella's fragrance division (including the famous Yardley brand), had the brainwave to revive the historic lavender growing industry in this part of Surrey. With that in mind, he sponsored the planting in the field opposite Oaks Park. As the project developed, it needed full-time care, which was when Brendan's wife Lorna took over the day-to-day management.

"At first, I was slow to recognise the special appeal of lavender growing, thinking it was just a romantic idea of Brendan's," admits Lorna. "But when I got more interested, I realised how important organic farming is and how much demand there is for oil distilled from locally grown organic lavender. I must admit, too, that the birth of my daughters accelerated my interest in all things organic."

Little did Lorna realise, however, just how much she would become involved. "As we don't use chemical pesticides or fertiliser to manage our crop, organic farming can be a real challenge, especially when it comes to weed management," she says. Throughout the growing season, the fields are hand-weeded, which is not a job for the faint-hearted. "We also mow between the rows every three weeks - about 50 miles in total," she says. "Now that is a relaxing job, especially on a bright summer's day!"

Weeding at Carshalton Lavender is also a big job, which is why this year they introduced their ingenious 'Adopt-a-row' scheme. For £20, anyone can take over the management of a row of lavender. The commitment involves pulling up the persistent couch grass and bindweed during the growing season from April until mid-July, which will probably take two people about a day to complete. The satisfaction is having your name displayed at the end of the row and getting a free bucket of lavender for each of your rows at harvest time.

Harvest festival
Harvesting in Carshalton begins in the second week of July and is usually a very festive occasion. The majority of the lavender is harvested by machine then sent to the distillers, and the resultant oil sold to local companies to be used in toiletries and beauty products. However, everyone is welcome to join in the fun of cutting and collecting lavender for themselves.

Among the attractions, a barbecue is provided to fortify the hungry gatherers and lavender produce will also be on sale - including plants, oil, toiletries and heat packs, not to mention delicious lavender cookies. An oil distillation is also demonstrated and the aromatherapy hand and foot massages are not to be missed.

Artist and photographer Tessa Spanton will be there, too, selling her attractive paintings of the lavender field, which she has interpreted from every angle. "I love to sit with my watercolours surrounded by the lavender fragrance and get lost in the beauty of the scene," she says.

Down at Mayfield, the fields attract loads of visitors who can buy freshly cut lavender from early June throughout the season until the end of July. "We get people coming year after year," says Lorna. "It's such a fantastic atmosphere and everyone goes home feeling so much better after inhaling the lavender fragrance."

Some of the hand-cut lavender is also dried to be used in scented bags or locally-made cookies and fudge, but the bulk of the harvesting is undertaken by a special machine that clips the lavender heads ready to be sent to the distillers. The oil is then bottled and labelled by hand ready for sale. Until recently, Lorna says the business was "too big to be a hobby but too small to be a wow commercially". Now, however, she has been bitten by the lavender bug and is planning ways to make her business grow and grow.

Perfect conditions
As residents of Surrey, we have the ideal conditions for growing lavender. The soil is chalky and free draining and, providing the lavender is planted in a sunny position, it's the perfect plant for edging paths or creating a low hedge.

At Spring Reach Nursery in Ockham, they sell a wide range of lavender-related products, and joint owner Nick Hourhan says they always prove extremely popular with customers. When it comes to growing lavender in your own garden, he has this advice.

"English lavender is best for our gardens," he says, "especially varieties such as Lavendula angustifolia Hidcote, which has dark blue flowers and grey/green foliage, or Munstead with its bluish/purple flowers and named after Gertrude Jekyll's garden at Munstead Wood."

At Petersham Nurseries near Richmond, which is also a big seller of lavender, plant buyer Laura Ashford agrees.

"Hidcote lavender is certainly the most popular and fragrant of all the English lavenders," she says. "But the French variety Stoechas, with its pinkish/purple flowers shaped like extravagant ears, looks especially pretty in cottage borders."

So, whether you enjoy the fun of harvesting, want to grow it in your garden or would simply like to buy some, now is the time to get to know the many varieties of lavender that are so much a part of Surrey's horticultural heritage.
 

***

Share your Surrey lavender photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos

 

***


The many uses of lavender oil

  • Add five to ten drops to a warm bath, then lie back and unwind
  • To clear sinuses add five drops to a steaming bowl of water, place a towel over your head and inhale
  • Put a few drops onto a handkerchief and place into your pillowcase for a good night's sleep
  • Dab cotton wool soaked with one or two drops to ease bee or nettle stings
  • Add a few drops to a bowl of warm water to revive tired feet
  • Drizzle several drops onto dried flowers or pot pourri for room fragrance

***


Getting in touch with Surrey lavender

  • Carshalton Lavender, Stanley Road Allotments, Oaks Way, Carshalton, Surrey SM5 4NQ Tel: 07948 174907
  • Mayfield Lavender, Croydon Lane, Banstead, Surrey Tel: 07775 800133
  • Spring Reach Nursery, Long Reach, Ockham, Surrey GU23 6PG Tel: 01483 284769
  • Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Petersham, near, Richmond, Surrey TW10 7AG Tel: 020 8940 5230

More from Surrey Life

Yesterday, 10:52

Surrey is full of secret hideaways and hidden gems. Slades Farm on the Wintershall Estate is definitely one of them

Read more
Wed, 16:05

The new hotel is set to open in spring 2019 and will be located in the heart of the vineyard, offering sweeping views over the North Downs Way.

Read more
Tue, 10:53

From Santa’s Grottos, to Victorian Christmas markets and late-night shopping, we’ve covered what’s on in Surrey this season

Read more
Tue, 10:47

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tue, 10:41

Having bloomed in Brighton’s restaurant scene over the past decade, The Chilli Pickle opened its second site in Guildford this summer

Read more
Mon, 14:32

Historic Royal Palaces and IMG have announced that Kylie Minogue is the first headliner confirmed for Hampton Court Palace Festival 2019. These will be her only London shows of summer 2019. Here’s how you can get tickets

Read more
Mon, 12:56

Enjoy this linear rail to ramble section of the Thames Down Link route taking the short train-ride from Box Hill & Westhumble to Ashtead before walking back

Read more
Mon, 12:13

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend (16, 17 and 18 November): art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

It’s that time of year when our beautiful countryside is alight with the colours of autumn. Here, we pick out some of her favourite spots to enjoy the seasonal splendour – as well as some perfect places for a post-walk refresher

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Found on the stretch of the River Thames between Weybridge and East Molesey, Sunbury-on-Thames is blessed with a village feel where it meets the water. From antique hunts to the joys of river life, here are a few of our favourite reasons to visit

Read more
Monday, November 5, 2018

Verity & Violet are Loui and Jess – a singing duo from Surrey who specialise in blending vintage classics with modern favourites. The two have achieved success in the capital, but are now hoping to attract an audience closer to home

Read more
Friday, November 2, 2018

With the Christmas celebrations seemingly starting earlier every year, it all feels a little too ‘soon’ sometimes, but what if you want to look your best for Christmas & New year celebrations and are considering having cosmetic non-surgical procedures? The Bella Vou Pantiles Clinic offers surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures and treatments from a purpose-built private clinic in the heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells

Read more
Thursday, November 1, 2018

Living in England’s most densely wooded county, it’s always a pleasure to witness Surrey donning its autumn finery. Here’s some of the best places to do just that - plus a few pub pit stops to enjoy on route!

Read more
Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We are regularly reminded of the high cost of housing with statistics revealing that only one in three millennials will be able to afford their own home during their lifetime and that most will remain in the category known as Generation Rent

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search