There is one lavender variety that has no camphor in its oil: it is pure lavender. It flowers just once a year in December and January, and we make an annual pilgrimage to see it (and smell it!) in full bloom at the Bridestowe Estate in northern Tasmania.
The variety grown here by the Ravens family is Lavandula angustifolia, previously called L. officinalis. The original seeds were brought to northern Tasmania by a London perfumer called Mr CK Denny. Mr and Mrs Denny chose a spot with conditions most like those of the mountains of southern France where augustiifolia grows naturally. They named the property after Mrs Denny’s birthplace in Devon, England – Bridestowe.
Lavender has been growing at Bridestowe Estate now for 90 years. All propagation on the farm is from cuttings – there are no new plants grown from seed as they do not seek genetic variation. There are four pure clones of L. angustifolia grown specifically for oil production, all named for members of the family. ‘Myra’, ‘Ann’, ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Jennifer’ are mixed to create the perfect blend of commercial lavender oil. ‘Phillipa’ is grown for the beauty of its dried flowers, and also because it tastes so good.
Lavandula angustifolia is the only lavender that can be eaten, and ‘Philippa’ is deemed to have the best flavour. We sampled her in lavender scones, lavender ice cream, rhubarb and lavender jam and lavender grey tea- delicious!
Lavender is commercially productive for oil for about a decade. So during winter, when the plants are dormant, about 10 acres of plants are dug up and divided to make new vigorous plants. It’s a bit like what you’d do at home, but on a huge scale, and with the help of a customised tractor. After being dug up, each plant is torn into about 10 pieces, each with a section of roots, and replanted by hand. The new plants are sprayed with Seasol and then left to get on with it. It sounds like a rough process, but the strike rate is excellent.
When the lavender is harvested it goes from the back of the mechanical harvester into giant steamers, 250 kg at a time. We watched as the pungent vapour moved up into a condenser and then into a separator, eventually trickling into a beaker. Each batch of 250 kg of flowers produces about 2.5 litres!
Sends you back to your soap with a new appreciation, doesn’t it!
Here’s one more shot, of our gang, just before we lunched under the century-old oak in the fields. There were glasses of Janzs and cups of rhubarb soft drink, both of which are made not far from Bridestowe. I would also like to add that I did tell everyone that a jacket is no good left in the hotel room, but I think many people were just looking for a good excuse to buy a lavender purple jacket at Bridestowe’s gift shop!
Photos: Libby Cameron