There is something simply sublime about Kent in summer. Known as the Garden of England, the county comes alive in the warmest months of the year to put on an astounding display of colour. When my lovely friend Mo from Fresh Eyes on London announced that she was coming to visit me in Kent, I knew that my home county would not disappoint. As fate might have it, Mother Nature also conspired to deliver a little bit of fortune our way – by the third week of July, the lavender harvest should have taken place already but a particularly wet summer meant that the fields were not ready for harvest and we were able to visit the lavender fields in all their glory.
We arrived at the Hop Shop on a very bright and sunny day. Despite our intention to visit well after noon, to avoid the midday glare of the sun, it was still very bright and hot indeed. We discovered that we had arrived in good time with just 20 minutes before the next tour of the lavender fields. We paid the £5 for the tour and then wandered around the Hop Shop farm shop and farm. One word of advice, if you do visit for a tour, be sure to make all your lavender product purchases beforehand because your olfactory senses will be in no condition to do so afterwards.
Our guide was a lovely young lady from New Zealand and she did an admirable job of herding our rather large group across the road to the fields opposite the Hop Shop. We were directed to an area of shade under a canvas canopy which was very much appreciated. We learned that the field we were looking at was not in fact lavender but Grosso Lavandin. Lavandin has a high, camphorous odour, quite unlike the soothing scent of lavender, and it is a stimulant. Lavandin is good for soothing aching muscles and can be invigorating and energising. It is excellent for getting rid of bugs be they fleas, mosquitos or moths so are often used in candles, linen protectors and detergents.
Our next stop was the lavender field and the first thing we noticed was that the lavender was much kinder to our olfactory senses. If you compare the spike of lavender below to the spike of lavandin above, you can see that each bud is far more distinct. Then again, this spike of lavender had not really begun to flower yet, hence the late harvest.
Lavender is the flower that we are all most familiar with and is used to adorn pillows and accompany relaxing baths the world over. It is a relaxant and its oil is used in the treatment of headaches, travel sickness and as a base aromatherapy oil.
Lavender is very popular with bees and is full of yummy pollen. If you click on the photo above and try zoom down to Mr Bee’s knees, you will indeed see where the term ‘bee’s knees’ comes from. His pollen sack is full to bursting and I kid you not, he zoomed off on a very wonky trajectory after posing so dashingly for my photo. He was absolutely punch drunk!
With the heat beginning to bear down on us in earnest, we crossed the main road again to tour the famous distillery.
There we learned all about how lavender and lavandin are harvested, the oil extraction process and the various uses of the oil. We even got to smell several types of oils.
We learned about the dire effects of a wet summer and how last year was the most bumper crop in the history of the Hop Shop because of the drought we experienced in England. It seems that lavender and I have that in common – we both love hot sunshine and dry conditions!
Stumbling out of the distillery after the presentation, we were glad to get a breath of fresh air. The tour is absolutely lovely, so lovely that I would like to return (every year!) but now I am sure you will understand why I advised that all products be purchased before the tour!
If you would like to learn more about the history of hop farming and how Londoners used to take ‘vacations’ to Kent, definitely visit Mo’s blog about our visit: The Lavender Farm.
The Hop Shop
Have you been to a lavender farm? Can you recommend any other outdoors places in the south east of England?