Of course on the must-see-do list for anyone going to France is a visit to a lavender farm. Again Diny & Ben were a fountain of information. They referred us to a small local establishment set on 11 acres called Lavande de Lherm, located a half hour drive away in a small hamlet called Lherm. It was privately owned and run by Ian Dick, a retired New Zealand airline pilot and his English wife, Suzie. Each year Diny had a small amount of her lavender from the garden surrounding the pool refined there.
They only took maximum of 12 in a group but the big bonus was that a Devonshire Tea was included in the price. I was sold. Lavender Farm. Small group. Devonshire Tea – perfect. After phoning and booking the three of us in, Diny gave me their brochure complete with mud-map on the back. However the mud-map proved to be not only inaccurate but totally misleading so once again ‘Baroness Tours’ traversed the surrounding countryside, went around in circles and double-backed, stopping at one point to ask in our expert franglais for directions. Luckily we’d become wise to allowing for a ‘get lost contingency’ in our travel schedule so we doubled the suggested time to get there. This turned out to be a wise move. Upon our arrival 5 minutes late, I politely pointed out the discrepancies on their dodgy little flyer but Ian seemed to just as politely ignore this, and suggested we all just come in and commence the tour. (There are probably many well-worn tracks of lost lavender-farm seekers all around the area).
It was gorgeous. Our small group of 12 was lead to some seats placed in the shade of a walnut tree facing one of their two lavender fields. The lavender rows were made up of several different varieties –even a white one! I never knew you could get white lavender. Suzie, complete with Chinese coolie hat, then gave us a detailed and very informative chat on the medicinal qualities of lavender, the many varieties, its history, all sorts of uses, the secrets and pitfalls of growing it, and lots more – though taking care not to overload our 12 brains with extraneous information.
Then out came the pièce de résistance – their harvesting machine. Resembling something from a Jules Verne novel, the design is based on a Chinese tea harvester. (Now we understood the relevance of Suzie’s hat). It consisted of 2 bicycle wheels, 2 pointy cone-shaped protuberances which gathered and guided the lavender flowers into its thresher and a sheet to catch the flowers – oh, and a motor to make it all go. It sounded just like my Victa lawn mower. Ian demonstrated this wonder machine by harvesting a row for us which would then be used to extract the magical potion.
We were given a few minutes to wander around before the call was given to file into the little ‘oil processing’ barn where Ian sat distilling with his beakers which bubbled and dripped, explaining the intricacies of the oil steam-extraction process (did you know lavender oil is clear and not mauve? I didn’t). Then out came the sandwiches, tea and scones…and cream. More high tea really. My hands and mouth were a blur!
Next we were ushered into Le Petit Atelier, an attractive pseudonym for ‘sales department.’ It was a tiny timber hut with every lavender product conceivable. Several metal sculptures set in the lawn nearby added to its charm – they were arranged to create a large sundial. Having been delighted by the informality and the lavender experience generally, not to mention those stunning scones (and jam and cream) we willingly released many euros and bought several oils, soaps and other things. (We’d even forgiven the dodgy mud-map directions).
Tina, Heather and Sharon