THE HISTORY OF LAVENDER
Lavender has its origins in antiquity; the Greeks and the Romans used it 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 odours 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 late 18th century when an industry grew up around 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 has abandoned their fields during the industrialisation 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 organised 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 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 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 the 1950s a grower discovered some seedlings which turned into vigorous plants with multiple flower spikes with oil yields far in excess of those previously experienced. In 1975 the Grosso variety appeared which is favoured by lavender farmers today for its 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 with 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 is one of half a dozen farms in the Applegate valley of Southern Oregon – see the section on the Southern Oregon Lavender Trail for more information.
The Genus Lavandula
All Lavender plants are part of the genus known as Lavandula and are represented by 39 species (ref: Tim Upson & Susyn Andrews – The Genus Lavandula 2004).
The genus can be divided into three distinct sub groups:
The plants grown here on the farm all 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 in 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.
Lavender Varieties Grown on the Farm
This variety of English lavender is one of the better Anugusifolia 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.
Hidcote 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 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.
This slow-growing lavender 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.
This 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.
This variety was 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.
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 Anugustifolias but it yields around six times more essential oil!