A visit to Jersey Lavender Farm
by Susyn Andrews
As part of my ongoing research for the forthcoming publication of The Genus Lavandula, in the Botanical Magazine Monograph Series, I needed to revisit a lavender farm in Jersey, a place I had last seen in August 1992.
Jersey Lavender was started by David and Elizabeth Christie in 1983 and although there had long been a tradition of perfumery locally, this was the very first time that an aromatic crop had been grown and distilled on the island.
David’s maternal grandparents had moved to Jersey after the First World War and settled in the parish of St. Brelade in the southwest of the island. They built a house called `Sands’ among the sand dunes and David was brought up there on a small dairy farm. Today, there are plants where there were formerly cattle and some nine acres around the estate are devoted to lavender. Four commercial clones of Lavandula angustifolia are grown for distilling, i.e. `Fring A‘, `G4‘, `No. 9‘ and `Maillette‘, while L. x intermedia `Grosso‘ is grown for distillation and for drying. All have been specially selected for the quality and quantity of their oil or for their resistance to shab, a fungal disease of lavender. The harvest or lavandage begins at the end of June and ends in late August. It is cut by hand and carried to the distillery or laid out on sheets to dry in the sun. The fields surround the distillery and the bottling rooms.
At the distillery, the lavender is packed into a steel container, lowered into one of two stills and tightly sealed. Live steam is passed through the plant material which vaporises the essential oils. The vapour is cooled rapidly in a condensor and the distillate poured into a florentine flask, where the precious oil is separated naturally from the distilled water and is tapped off. Each clone is distilled separately. Next door is the laboratory where the oil of the individual clone is blended after it matures. In here a range of fragrances, soaps and toiletries are made entirely by hand. All the products are bottled and packaged on site.
The Christies also run the distribution side of their business and their sales department markets over 50 different fragrance items, totalling in all some 130 high quality products which are also available by mail order: www.jerseylavender.co.uk.
Nearby the second oldest of the seven U.K. National Collections of Lavandulais situated. It was started in 1990/91 and is particularly important as it contains several commercial French clones, as well as wild source material collected by the Christies in southern Europe and around the world. Today, it contains material of 20 species, subspecies and varieties as well as 70 cultivars and hybrids. Several vouchers were taken for herbarium specimens and chemical analysis, as well as numerous photographs. Detailed descriptions were collected and the Royal Horticultural Society Colour Chart (1986) was much in use.
I would like to thank the Kew Guild Award Scheme for the grant which provided me with the means to visit such an important lavender collection.