When one thinks of lavender, for many what comes to mind are images of picturesque Provencal landscapes. It certainly does for me, having holidayed in that beautiful part of the south of France numerous times over the years. Indeed, nothing more defines the essence of Provence than swathes of purple lavender and its heady scent in the air.
What’s less well known is that here in England, a handful of lavender producers have transformed their rural landscape to replicate that of Provence. One of the best known of these can be found in Lordington, a village close to Chichester in West Sussex and just two miles from the Hampshire border.
The story goes that back in 2002, after seeing his milk sell for less than it cost him to produce it, dairy farmer Andrew Elms, sold his herd and began looking for an alternative crop to grow. He decided upon lavender and over the subsequent years he’s grown Lordington Lavender into an important producer of essential oil and lavender-based products.
Today, some five acres of the farm is dedicated to growing lavender, although there are apparently plans to double the size in the near future.
And that’s not surprising. You need a lot of lavender to produce a little essential oil. In a good year, one where it’s extremely dry, Lordington can produce around 100 litres of oil, although most years the average yield is closer to 40.
The particular variety they grow is Mailette (Lavandula Angustifolia). Although not a French variety — it’s commonly called English Lavender — it’s renowned for its essential oils. Mailette blooms between mid-June and mid-July.
Apart from its fragrant scent, lavender is renowned for its healing properties. Being a natural antiseptic, it helps both minor burns and insect bites. Additionally, it aids relaxation and sleep and is also said to help reduce stress and anxiety.
But for many, the biggest attraction of lavender is seeing row upon row of it in full bloom. To cater for this, Lordington opens its fields to the public for a week each summer.
Despite living close by, this was my first visit. I didn’t plan it especially well as the car park was already packed by the time I arrived. It was the penultimate open day which also happened to be the hottest day of the year so far.
If there was one thing I wanted to avoid it was having people in my photos, but that looked an impossibility when I reached the lavender. There were two fields, one of which appeared to have already been harvested. The other was teeming with people walking up and down the rows.
For me, the unexpected bonus was the abundance of wildflowers bordering the lavender field. Lordington prides itself on not using any fertilisers or pesticides, relying instead on the insects that the nectar-rich wildflowers attract. Apparently, even the weeding is done by hand.
Why they only open for a week is beyond me, I would’ve thought it must be worth their while to be open for two or three times as long. And whilst there were a few lavender-based products to buy and refreshments to be bought, surely there is a huge commercial opportunity to do much more.
If it were me, I’d be thinking about a rosé bar, a cafe selling Provencal food and a petanque area. In addition, I would look to create information areas that explain the transformation of lavender into the various end products and demonstrate its wellbeing benefits. And, last but not least, why were they not selling any souvenir merchandise such as T-shirts and hats? And in these Covid times, it was also surprising they did not have any lavender-based hand sanitizer.
Maybe in future years with an expanded production, Lordington will capitalise on the tremendous opportunity they are sitting on. All I know is seeing it in person was well worth the visit. If you can’t get to see lavender fields in Provence, this is definitely the next best thing.
Behind the shot: All these images were taken handheld either with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 using the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens or with the iPhone 12. The big challenge was how to get interesting compositions without anyone in them. Ultimately that was all about seeking out locations where there were few people and waiting for them to leave the frame.Despite visiting the fields when they were at their busiest, I was very happy to have come away with a bunch of interesting shots, including several that I had in my mind’s eye. Shot at Lordington, West Sussex on 17 July 2021.
About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. With no concerts or major events taking place during lockdown, Gary has turned his attention to creatively capturing the landscapes of West Sussex. On the writing side, he has also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently he has written a biography of Robert Palmer. All these can be found here on Medium along with his reviews of gigs and events and interviews with musicians.