Dilly-dallying among the lavender

Hitchin Lavender

Hitchin Lavender - Credit: Archant

THERE is a place not far from St Albans, where you feel as though you have arrived in Provence. A few weeks ago I visited this incredible place - Hitchin Lavender, and under a clear blue sky, I marvelled at the beauty of this place once again.

I have visited Hitchin Lavender for the last three years - and it has become something of a tradition. Each time I visit, I am surprised and taken aback by the beauty of the place. I always think I remember what I will be expecting to see there, but when I arrive, I realise that I have forgotten so much about the beauty of the place. The scent of the lavender on the breeze as you enter from the car park, the vivid colours, and above all, the sheer scale of the lavender planting.

Cadwell Farm has been farmed by the same family for five generations, and for over a hundred years - which doesn’t surprise me at all, because the feel of the place is very much that of somewhere which has been loved and looked after by people who really care about it.

It was only back in 2000 that the Hunters added the lavender to the crops that they already were farming there, and they now have over 14 acres of lavender. There are several different varieties, and whilst walking through the lavender fields, it is obvious that there are different varieties, as the colours change from one row to another - each different shade of purple, just as exquisite as the next, and some fading to almost white.

My favourite has got to be the traditional English lavender - the kind with a scent which takes you back to lavender bags that you may have had as a child, and the kind that I grow in my own garden.

The colour is not the only striking thing about Hitchin Lavender - the sound is another thing that I adore.

There is a real feeling of peace at Cadwell Farm, although there is a fabulous converted barn, where you can sit and enjoy a cream tea, or an ice cream, whilst browsing the wonderful lavender products and plants that are for sale, when you get into the fields themselves, there is a real feeling of calm and quiet.

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The sound that you can hear though, is the low drone of bees - they bumble between the rows of lavender, drunkenly flying from one plant to the next.

They are not scared away by those who are picking the lavender, but happily sit to be photographed - with the decline in bees, it is wonderful to see so many here, enjoying the flowers, just as the people are.

Tim Hunter from Cadwell Farm told me that: “The lavenders also attract an abundance of wildlife - butterflies, bees, skylarks and swallows aren’t difficult to find.”

The lavender is available for picking throughout July and August, and the visitor numbers this year are expected to be around 20,000.

It’s hardly surprising, when for the price of your entrance fee, you are given a bag to fill with lavender to take home. I now have vases full of this incredibly scented lavender, drying in my house.

As well as being able to visit the farm to pick the lavender, the farm provides the most incredible venue for events, and when I was there, a newly married couple were having their wedding photographs taken amongst the lavender rows. I couldn’t think of anything finer!

At the end of August, an outdoor cinema screen is coming to Cadwell Farm, and there will be some special screenings of films. Dirty Dancing, Mama Mia, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s being shown over the bank holiday weekend - if the weather holds, these promise to be very special evenings indeed - amongst such breathtaking surroundings.

The lavender from Cadwell Farm isn’t just available to buy from the shop on the farm, as well as producing products for sale at various local retailers, their products can be found at places such as Lambeth Palace, Hatfield House, and Knebworth House.

It is great to see a local retailer producing goods which are having such a wide reach, and with the handcreams and other products that are available, smelling as good as they do, I’m sure they will continue to thrive.

Things to do in your garden this month...

WHILE the weather has been so hot, the main thing that I have been doing in my garden is keeping it watered, but as we are now into August, which is one of the quieter months for things to do in the garden, there are a few things that you can be getting on with whilst we enjoy the last of the summer months.

Now is the time when you will be kept busy with harvesting those vegetables that you have been tending in the past few months – if you’ve been putting love into growing veg, it’s time for the reward to all of that hard work!

Make sure you keep dead-heading any flowers which need it – not only will it make your flowerbeds look tidier, but it will prolong the flowering season for most things.

Start looking at bulb catalogues, and in the garden centres/nurseries. The autumn bulbs will start to appear in the shops this month, so it’s a good time to start planning which bulbs you want (and can afford!) to buy.

Plant out wallflowers and sweet Williams for flowering next year; feed your hanging baskets/tubs; lift and dry off onions; assuming your strawberries have finished, cut off leaves and dig through between plants – taking runners for replacing older plants; if raspberries have finished, cut out this year’s fruiting canes and tie in the new growth for fruiting next year.

Most importantly, enjoy your garden – whilst the weather is as lovely as it has been recently, it’s a great excuse to sit out in the garden and enjoy all of your hard work, but don’t forget the suncream!

Focus on: Tatton Park Flower Show

THIS month I have also been doing some travelling up to Cheshire to attend the Tatton Park Flower Show.

To me, this felt very much like another version of the Hampton Court Flower Show, but in the north of the country.

There were some big differences though including a whole section which was dedicated to growing food, and showcased some projects by local schools, and ideas for growing food even if you don’t have much room.

There were lots of show gardens, like at most of the shows, but there were also some gardens which had been done by young garden designers, which I found to be really inspirational – particularly one which was designed to be “bee friendly” and incorporated a bee hive into the design.

One of the show gardens had exceptional planting, which I really fell in love with (pictured left), a mixture of all different kinds of plants, which gave the garden great texture, and real interest.

It really drew the eye to look at the planting, and to pick out what all of the individual plants were, it has given me lots of inspiration for my own flower beds.