Outings: June and July 2018

Over the summer months, club members have enjoyed two very differing visits, the first to Stockton Bury Gardens in June and the second to Welsh Lavender in July. In August, it was the club’s 38th Annual Show with a fantastic range of produce on display.

Stockton Bury Gardens at Kimbolton is a four-acre garden created by Raymond Treasure and Gordon Fenn 30 years ago. Raymond and Gordon continue to garden at Stockton Bury and, in recent years, have been joined by their niece Tamsin Westhorpe. Club members were privileged to enjoy a private visit to the gardens on a day when they are not normally open to the public.

Despite the difficult, very dry, growing conditions in the previous few months, the gardens still offered much of interest on what was a searing hot afternoon in June. Lofty pale blue Campanulas under planted with Trifoliums and Eryngiums giving an ethereal feel under the soft green foliage of the glade. We were all delighted to see bright flashes of colour scattered round the edges of the wildlife pond, in stark contrast to the large imposing canopy leaves of the Gunnera. Amongst our group are many keen vegetable growers and Stockton Bury’s kitchen garden showed us just how productive and decorative the working part of the garden can be.

A number of buildings are integrated into the gardens, from the medieval dovecote and barns to the brand new ‘Pavilion’, which provided some welcome shade and views across the countryside. We then headed to the tithe barn, where we sat under the trees and enjoyed tea and cakes or a choice of cooling ice cream.

Welsh Lavender is based at a small farm located 1100 feet up on the Epynt near Builth Wells, with stunning views over the surrounding hills. Nancy Durham and her husband, Bill Newton-Smith, have been growing lavender there since 2003.

Nancy gave us a tour of the two lavender fields and the small distillery room. She described how the enterprise started and how they farm the lavender, adding that it had particularly enjoyed this year’s hot, dry weather. The main variety grown at the farm is Grosso, a hybrid of Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and Lavandula latifolia, as it has the highest oil yield and is very hardy. The lavender is harvested both by hand and using machinery. Nancy explained that 15 kilos of Grosso lavender produces anywhere from 100 to 250 ml of oil. They also grow Imperial Gem and Folgate for drying.

This year’s lavender harvest and distilling had just begun, so Nancy was able to draw off the very first lavender oil of 2018 while we looked on. The oil had a surprisingly medicinal aroma, which we learned was typical of Grosso lavender. Nancy explained that the oil is sent from the farm to Helen Lowe, an artisan developer of body care products based in North Wales. The finished products are sent back to the farm to be packaged up under their FARMERS’ brand and shipped from this small farm all over the world.

We were able to look around the other areas of the farm which included a vegetable garden and a swimming lake. The small shop proved popular, not least because of the samples of lavender chocolate that were on offer, and the afternoon concluded with the obligatory pot of tea and delicious homemade cakes.