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 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 Varieties Grown On The Farm
FolgateOne of the better Angustifolia oil producers and is considered the best for producing high-yield crops for culinary use. Folgate is a small bush with narrow, small leaves and a sweet aroma. If you like cooking with lavender or enjoy the sweet smell in potpourri and sachets you will love this plant.HidcoteHidcote Lavender has long been one of the most sought after Lavandula Angustifolia varieties and is one of the darkest and shortest of the Lavandula Angustifolia group. Often propagated by seed that does not come true to the original plant, it can be very difficult to locate the proper dark purple Hidcote Lavender. Our Hidcote plants are always propagated by cuttings so their characteristics remain true to the original plant.Sharon RobertsSharon Roberts is a medium size bushy plant containing green foliage and dark purple/blue flowers. It is suitable for ornamental hedging because it has a long blooming period and a strong fragrance. This variety is an excellent choice when making fresh bundles.Buena VistaA slow-growing lavender that is excellent for use in baking. This lavender variety blooms twice per year – once in the late spring and again in fall in areas with long growing seasons and mild weather. Buena Vista has a strong fragrance, distinctive and very dark blue calyxes and lighter blue flowers.Royal VelvetThis variety is a small to medium-sized plant. It is one of the best Lavandula Angustifolias. Its deep purple flowers and foliage are highly aromatic. It is a great oil producer and excellent for baking. Royal Velvet is an all-purpose plant that is one of the most popular lavenders currently.
Tuckers EarlyA variety introduced by Tom DeBaggio and is a cross between two lavender varieties - Mitcham Grey and Two Seasons. It features dark flower buds and blue flowers which bloom throughout the summer. It is one of the earliest lavenders to bloom and the last to finish. It makes a great container plant and is highly fragrant.GrossoNot an English Lavender but an X-Intermedia this cultivar has one of the darkest violet colors among the lavandins and is excellent for fresh or dried bouquets. Its neat abundant growth habit and second bloom in autumn make it a great all-around plant and one of the most popular lavenders. The scent of the lavandins is not as sweet as the Angustifolias but it yields around six times more essential oil! While we don't extract oils from "French" lavender we do use this variety in our lavender sachets and all of our heat-able products along with flax seed. You won’t find this growing in the field here on the farm but we do have it growing along the driveway as you enter the property and at the front gate.MelissaWe selected Melissa because of its pretty pink color which we feel offsets the blues and purples beautifully. Melissa is often used for culinary purposes and some might say it has a peppery flavor that goes really well in savory dishes.Betty's Blue was introduced to the farm in 2015. It is a great crafting variety because of its deep blue color and tight flower heads. We think this is going to be a firm favorite.
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.