The history of lavender sometimes seems fluid with dates and events changing with the seasons and the telling. Here on the farm we read what we can and share the stories that explain and entertain. If you are interested in more of the history of this beloved and revered herb consider perusing the information available on Wikipedia by clicking the button on the right.
We're told that the Greeks and the Romans used lavender as a perfume; for bathing and in laundry. In the Middle Ages its use has been linked to the fight against infectious diseases since there was a belief that odors spread disease. Lavender was grown in the gardens of convents and monasteries and may have been used for medicinal purposes especially after the outbreak of plague in Provence in the South of France. In the late 18th century an industry grew up around the town of Grasse for the production of perfume in which lavender essential oil was a key ingredient. This gave work and income to some of the poorest communities in southern France, especially as their land was unsuitable for other crops, and there was an abundance of wild lavender after the peasants had abandoned their fields during the industrialization of the first half of the century. Cultivating and picking lavender became an important focus for the peasant farmers and their families. Gradually farmers became more organized and equipped themselves with stills and were able to extract the essential oil themselves. In the early twentieth century the demand for lavender essential oil by the perfumeries grew considerably and farmers learned how to propagate and transplant lavender to the hills surrounding many of the small villages in France. After the World Wars the introduction of mechanical cutting techniques displaced many small farmers once again and the lavender crops became concentrated in certain areas mostly around the town of Sault. At the same time a synthetic product appeared on the market (lavender fragrance oil) and in large part replaced the widespread use of natural lavender essential oil in cheaper consumer products. In 1972 a grower named Pierre Grosso (1905-1989) discovered some unusual lavender plants in a deserted field in the Vaucluse district of France. He took some cuttings which turned into healthy plants with multiple flower spikes and oil yields in excess of those from lavandula species. In 1975 the Grosso variety was updated from the old form of "Abrialis" to the new Grosso lavandin which is now the preferred crop for farmers in the south of France for its longevity and superior oil yields. Lavender essential oil however has retained its place in the luxury perfume market and in the development of herbal medicine and aromatherapy industries and is prized for its delicate aromas. In England it is believed that lavender was introduced by Queen Eleanor of Provence in the 1300s and was probably grown for its uses as a component for strewing over earthen floors to improve odors and repel vermin rather than as a plant in a garden. It is believed that lavender was brought to North America by the English although they had limited success cultivating it. It was not until the early twentieth century that commercial lavender growing really took hold in the Pacific North West due to the pioneering work of L.J. Wyckoff from Seattle. Lavender has seen something of a revival in recent years and The English Lavender Farm joined five other lavender venues in 2014. Today there are fewer farms in and around the Applegate Valley and we hope that will change with new venues preparing to open in the spring of 2019.

Lavender

Lavender Varieties Grown On The Farm

Augustifolias (English Lavender) Folgate Folgate is one of our favorites – it is a smallish plant – usually around 24” wide with narrow, small leaves and a sweet aroma. The color is a beautiful light purple and we use this variety for cut flowers and wreath making. Hidcote The darkest purple of all the lavender we grow is produced by our “Hidcote”. This is a dense lavender plant which has a stronger aroma than some English lavenders and is probably the most popular for landscaping. It is typically smaller than average Angustifolias; ours are about 20” across. Hidcote makes a great dwarf hedge or can be used for edging or for creating borders. Sharon Roberts Sharon Roberts is a very open, violet / blue plant that has long but sometimes kinky stems growing to about 40” in diameter. It tends to splay out as the plant ages but flowers for the longest time and is very fragrant. Again, this was introduced in Oregon and named after the grower’s wife. Buena Vista Buena Vista makes for excellent dried bouquets so long as we cut the stems before most of the flowers are fully open. We made the mistake of harvesting them too late in July a couple of times and were very disappointed in the difference that made to the dried bundles. This was also a lavender introduced by an Oregon nursery and was named after the road that the owner was situated on. We have had slightly more difficulty propagating Buena Vista than other varieties. Buena Vista has a strong fragrance, distinctive and very dark blue calyxes and lighter blue flowers and reaches about 40” across when fully grown. Royal Velvet Royal Velvet is grown at the English Lavender Farm as a culinary herb because of its sweet flavor. It is a soft violet color and is very fragrant. It was introduced in Oregon in 1988 and grown from seed originally collected in England. The full-grown plants reach about 40” wide is one of the most popular lavenders currently.
Tuckers Early Tuckers Early is a fragrant, leggy variety that sometimes blooms twice – the last time being in Fall and reaches about 30” across. The bloom time is quite long, being one of the earliest to flower and one of the last to finish. We use this variety for dried bundles. Melissa Melissa is one of the more recent lavender varieties that we grow – it was developed in 1999 in Oregon and named after the grower’s wife. It is an erect tightly compact bush with white calyxes which reaches 36” in diameter. When the flowers open, they are also white and then become pale pink. Melissa has a slight peppery taste and is often used in culinary dishes where color is not important. Betty’s Blue We grow Betty’s Blue because it is a compact erect plant with no splaying. The flowering spikes are dense and a dark violet color which lend themselves well to cut flowers and wreath making. This variety was introduced by an Oregon nursery and named after their manager Betty Walker. Betty’s Blue reaches about 24” wide. X-Intermedias (Lavandin) Grosso We grow Grosso from softwood cuttings (not seed because the hybrids are sterile) and they produce a very dark purple color and are very pungent. We use the dried buds for sachets and heated lavender neck wraps. Our Grosso plants are typically 5’ in diameter and flower after the Angustifolias in July. Provence Provence is another hybrid lavender that can reach 6’ across. They are a lighter purple than “Grosso” and we tend to use the stems for making lavender wands. Provence does not dry well in so far as the buds do not stay on the stems but fall off very easily (which is great if you want to use the buds in crafts). Phenominal Our Phenomenal is probably one of the hardiest of the hybrid lavenders and in July produces elegant lavender colored calyxes and flowers on long stems that wave in the summer wind. The plants reach about 4’ in diameter and the stems are mostly used in fresh bouquets and in lavender wands. This variety is protected by a patent and we are not allowed to take or sell cuttings.

The History of Lavender

For More Lavender History

We grow a number of varieties of lavender on the farm, almost all of them stem from "true" varieties grown by Sarah Bader at Lavender at Stonegate in Oregon and any new plants have been propagated from the original starts so we can be sure of their heritage. The majority of our plants are of the Lavandula group - in the main they are Angustifolias or English Lavenders and we have a small number of X-Intermedia Lavandins or hybrid plants. Choosing lavender for your own garden may seem overwhelming given the array of types and varieties. It might help to think of lavender as three groups. The lavender we grow are all Angustifolias usually referred to as “English”. Compact plants generally growing to be 28” in width and height. We also have some X- intermedias which are often referred to as “French”. These plants tend to be larger, up to 36” in height and width in some cases. Lastly there are the Stoechas varieties which have much more dense heads with little “bunny ears” emerging from the top. We prefer the first two types because their fragrance offers a traditional lavender profile. The Stoechas lavenders are pretty in their own right but their perfume is somewhat lacking. After deciding on the general area you are planting and how tall you would like the plants then visit farms or gardens of family or friends to discover how each variety look and smell. Try not to get too technical because, after all, its just there to smell and look good! Before buying, consider that your new plantings will require full sun and will need frequent watering for its first summer. After the plant is established you can cut back on watering. And speaking of watering… lavender does not tolerate having wet roots for long. In well drained soil lavender can be watered often. In heavier soil watering should be curtailed to allow roots to dry out between waterings. In heavy clay, well, don’t plant lavender! If all of this seems like too much information then please come by the farm or stop by and visit us at a local farmers market and we will be happy to share what we know.