Friday, 5 December 2014

A Visit to the Lavender Farm

In the summer, with news stories that the Lavender farm might close, Katalin and I decided to pay it a visit.
Here is the rather unique hexagonal entrance building. Inside is the shop and cafe. The outside area in the cafe, where we sat, has seating along each side of the hexagon.

As well as scrumptious cakes, there are cakes that are delicious and peculiar to the farm. I would not have thought that Lavender cake was especially nice - it seems strange to make a cake with it -  but it was wonderful.

How they cut lavender - Alastair Christie explains - there is expensive equipment that needs a lot of maintenance, but they found that hedge trimmers did the job just as well and at half the cost.

Although not at the height of the season, it was still nice to see these fields of lavender.

The bees fly amongst the plants and cross pollinate them.   When the resulting seeds germinate in April, they collect many up and keep them carefully.   Over a few years they keep an eye on these plants to see if there are any unusual ones – Elizabeth, which they now grow, was one of these plants.

Apart from its look – greyer than most and with soft, furry dark purple flower buds, it produces an excellent yield of a good quality essential oil, and also its flowers keep their colour well when dried.

Gradually they are increasing the number of Elizabeth plants in the fields, replacing the ‘Fring’ Lavender.   Plant Breeders Rights have been awarded, making it illegal to propagate and sell Elizabeth without a licence.

Swinging along! Well, Katalin and I went for a walk along the fields, and found this rope swing, which I enjoyed for a few minutes, then felt guilty when I saw an 8 year old girl and her mother had come along and were waiting patiently!


Here at Jersey Lavender the process of distillation is pretty much based on the same principles as that which was carried out by the Egyptians over 2000 years ago – albeit with a modern oil-fired boiler and stainless steel stills.

How it works

The plant material (Lavender flowers, Rosemary leaves etc) is loaded into a mesh basket, weighed so that we can calculate the essential oil yield and them lowered into the still.   The lid is put on and tightened down with bolts.

Steam is produced by the oil fired boiler and this is them blasted under pressure into the space at the bottom of the still, below the base of the mesh basket.   The steam rises through the plant material – the heat breaks the oil glands in the leaves or flowers and vapourises the essential oil.   The mixture of steam and oil vapour rises to the top of the still and out through a horizontal pipe at the back and into the ‘condenser’ – here, cool water is fed in at the lower end and passes through a coiled pipe inside the condenser.   This cools the steam and oil vapour down to water and tiny essential oil droplets, which then flow into the glass ‘Florentine Flask’.  

The essential oil, which is lighter than water (and also does not mix with it) separates out and floats to the top.  The excess water is siphoned from the bottom of the flask and back into the still – though they are currently looking into the benefits of keeping and using this water which has a slight lavender fragrance.   At the end of each day they draw off the precious essential oil and store it away carefully.

As for the waste – the condenser cooling water emerges from the condenser as very hot water.   This is pumped continuously through the water cooler outside (the noisy machinery) where it is air cooled and recycled.   The old stalks and flowers from the distillation are put on a compost heap and in 12 months time will be put back on the fields and flower beds as lovely, nutritious compost.

Old Copper Still

This copper still from Southern Portugal illustrates the sort of equipment used for centuries, up until the 1800s.   The plant material was put in the ‘still pot’, with water, and a fire was lit underneath.   The condenser (on the left) is simply a coil of copper piping in a container of water.   This basic system works, but the quality is not as good as steam-distilled oil and the process takes longer.

Such copper distillation equipment can also be used to distil alcohol, and in fact in late 2012, a passable apple brandy was produced – for home consumption only!

Bottling room

In this room many of their fragrances are blended and products are filled and labelled.   All the equipment is simple to use, clean and maintain and is still manufactured by UK companies.   This sort of equipment would be widely used by small toiletry filling companies, and it certainly serves their needs very well.

Lotion and Gel Filling Machine – The lotions and gels are transferred into the 25 litre hopper, and by pulling on a lever (on the other side of the machine) the correct amount of product is dispensed into a bottle which is held under the filling nozzle.

Labelling Machine – A filled and capped bottle is slid into the correct position on a couple of rollers.   When a foot pedal is pressed, the motor activates and one label is automatically dispensed off a reel and onto the bottle.

Hand Crimper – The perfumes and the room spray have a pump-spray dispenser.   The filled container with a pump spray top loosely inserted into the neck is placed into the crimp head.   When the lever is pulled down the pump spray top is tightly crimped onto the container neck.

Liquid Filling Machine – This is used for filling the perfumes, the room spray and bath oil.   It works on a vacuum filling process.   An empty bottle is placed onto the filling head, creating the vacuum, so that the liquid is sucked from the glass container and into the bottle to the correct level.

Oil Bottle Filler – They fill small numbers of oil bottles as required by their customers.   This helps preserve the quality of the oil.   The basic filling pump allows us to accurately dispense the small 10ml quantity of oil into a bottle.   A dropper insert and cap are then put on.

Grounds and Van

There's an old fashioned promotional van in the grounds, so of course it was a photo opportunity for Katalan and me!

Gypsy Caravan

Here, Katalin looks ready to read someone's fortune! I do remember this with wheels at some point, but perhaps they rotted away. It doesn't look quite as good propped up like this.


We ended our stay after an extensive walk passing the small dovecote. There are still plenty of doves flying back and forth. The business is on the market, and unfortunately its future is uncertain. Let's hope the doves flying there are a sign of hope, that this very unique Jersey business and tourist venue will continue.

1 comment:

James said...

The fact that the farm practically backs onto Reg's Garden (also closing next year) may fill certain developers with glee...