Smelling the Flowers

29 Nov

As you all know by now, growing lavender is one of my passions. For this reason Dana and I visit lavender farms and talk to the owners whenever we have the chance.

On Kangaroo Island’s north coast, Emu Bay Lavender is a farm that began with research on growing angustifolias and lavandins.  These are the two basic kinds of lavender, lavandula angustifolia (fine lavender) and lavandula x intermedia (lavandin.) Lavandins  are grown for their outstanding oil production while angustifolias are grown more for their aroma. Lavandin has a stronger smell of camphor and  angustifolia has the sweet flowery scent.

In 2002 the owners of Emu Bay, Tony and Maria, planted selected varieties of their lavender from a choice of over 200 varieties available world-wide.  They planted six different varieties of Grosso, Super and Seal (lavandins) and  Miss Donnington, Munstead and Impress Purple (angustifolias.)

From the first year Emu Bay lavender has been harvested by hand. They use hand sickles to cut and bunch the lavender and the dried plants’ stems are stripped by hand.   Today the farm has expanded to one hectare of land committed to 12 varieties of lavender. It produces 8000 bunches of lavender that yield 125 kg of dried stripped flowers and 5 to 8 liters of essential oil to be used in products made by the farm.

Contrary to what you would expect, lavender loves full sun and poor soil as long as it is well-drained. It also requires little water. When Dana and I toured lavender farms in France, we saw wild lavender growing in soils that appeared to be 100 percent limestone rock. Lavender likes limestone because it needs calcium, a substance in abundance on Kangaroo Island.
And though lavender is thought to be pest resistant this is not true.  At Emu Bay they have problems with grubs, caterpillars, beetles and the wandering wallaby who nibbles on the fresh growth.

When you shop for lavender products remember to ask which kind of lavender was used to make them.  Angustifolias are relaxing and calming. Oils from these plants are used for aromatherapy. Lavandins are stimulating. Oils from these plants are used for soaps and pot pourris.

Tony and Maria are smart, creative, hardworking and ingenious farmers. Not only do they grow lavender and make products, they built their own farm shop and opened a small restaurant specializing in dishes using culinary lavenders. This diversity is what it takes to make a living growing lavender.

We talked to Tony about buying and running a lavender farm. He suggested very diplomatically, “it is a young person’s game.” And I suspect that is true… but one can always dream.

14 Responses to “Smelling the Flowers”

  1. Maryl December 3, 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    We still have the lavender wands you made when you were living in SB. I keep one in our guest room and our Evergreen Travel Club guests always comment on it. You could make a lot of wands with that crop. Does it make you itch to be back home working in the garden?!

    • Jill December 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      I keep thinking about our garden and wonder how it is doing in the drought…especially the trees. I had forgotten how lush Mediterranean climates are.

  2. Dede December 2, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    Jill, as I look at these again I am wondering how close they are to harvest time. They look like they are ready to burst.

    • Jill December 2, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

      Some of the blooms are ready for harvest. December 1 was the first day of summer. Dec.-Feb is the harvesting season here. Because Emu Bay plants so many different varieties the harvest spans a couple of months. You can see in the header picture that some of the plants have flowers and others are still green. Wish you could have been there to smell it with me.

  3. Dede November 30, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Oh be still my heart…

  4. Ursula Freer November 30, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    Do you need a small field to smell them in the garden? They seems to be perfect for our area. I assume they are perennials.

    • Jill November 30, 2012 at 12:22 am #

      You can smell them with several plants in a small garden. Their scent diffuses well, particular on sunny days. My experience in Eldorado is the angustifolias do better than the lavandins. It is important to irrigate the plants in the first two years until they are established. Then they can make it (short of drought) with rainfall from then on. It is good to dig a fairly large hole for the small plant and add some lime when planting. Planting in spring gives the plants a good head start and cutting back once the plant starts flowering helps the plants enormously.

  5. Ellen Gregor November 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Wow! What was it like standing in the middle of that?

    • Jill November 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      The color and the scent overwhelm your senses. They say that the aroma of lavender stimulates calm and a sense of well being. I have certainly found that to be true. When we lived in California I grew lavender and made lavender wands. The smell would fill the house and the effect was quite magical.

      • Ellen Gregor November 29, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

        When my son’s band is on tour, they put lavender oil in the bus or van. Helps with the stress on the road!

  6. Ursula Freer November 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    I understand they don’t need much water. Is it practical to grow them from seed?

    • Jill November 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

      No, lavender is not usually grown from seed but from cuttings. Most lavenders originated in France. Over time certain varieties have been called English or Spanish but that is because those specific varieties are most often planted and thrive in those countries. All varieties are either angustifolias or lavandins.

  7. Neil Freer November 29, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    Really beautiful but do the wide tracklike spaces between the rows indicate that it’s to accomodate a tractor perhaps spraying pesticides on the crops?

    • Jill November 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

      Usually no pesticides are used on a lavender crop. The wide aisles in the photos could accommodate a lavender harvester but Emu Bay harvests by hand. It is interesting to note that the only manufactured lavender harvesters, designed specifically for lavender, are from France. The French have the monopoly on these machines and do not export them. Most lavender farmers in other parts of the world design their own harvesters from machines made for other purposes.

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