The lavender fields of Shropshire
PUBLISHED: 16:14 06 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013
Joanna Spencer has created a purple haze of scents, sounds and sights that make her English smallholding look like a scene from Provence. By Rachel Crow
Amid the gently rolling Shropshire countryside the soft purple fields of lavender nurtured by Joanna Spencer exude a rich scent and panorama more often associated with the French Provence.
As you walk towards them on a warm summer's day, not only are you hit by the distinctive fragrance, but are surrounded by the gentle hum of the bees and flutter of the numerous butterflies drawn to the nectar. "In the hot summer of 2007, I counted many varieties of butterfly," says Joanna.
An ardent gardener, Joanna has always had a passion for lavender but it wasn't until the Foot and Mouth outbreak forced her family to rethink the use for the smallholding beside their home in Pickstock, three miles outside Newtown, that she was able to spin this interest into a cottage industry.
"We've been here for over 25 years and kept sheep for years, but due to new regulations it was no longer possible to keep them as a hobby, so we looked at what to do with the fields. I hate seeing fields empty so I persuaded my husband, Robin, if I could do a trial plot of lavender to see if it took and he succumbed."
With the help of their 'ploughing enthusiast' farmer neighbour and his vintage tractor, they ploughed the fields and sowed the first seeds in 2004. It flourished, "and so I was off! It was a dream, a passion really," explains Joanna.
They opened the matured fields of blue to the public for the first time during the summer months of 2006 and this year will be open every weekend from Saturday June 27 until August 16. Planted with 10 different varieties of lavender, each with individual properties - a deeper hue, stronger perfume, culinary use, or rich oil - you can feast your eyes on the different shades of violet and blue and breathe in the heady scents.
As well as talking visitors through the wonders of her fields, Joanna regularly gives speaks to societies throughout the year. "I'm happy to talk about lavender for hours," she laughs. "It's a wonderful plant and has so many amazing properties. Lavender oil is a cure-all for everything and it's something that I'm interested in and I like to tell people about it."
With Robin occupied with his market research company, and their four children at school or having flown the nest, it's largely left to Joanna to do battle against the constant plague of rabbits who: "Absolutely adore the lavender and must have a party in the fields spending many happy hours nibbling and uprooting plants." She uses the oil that's distilled from some of the crop to make handmade soaps which is sold alongside other fragrant goods including perfumes, oils, shampoos, dried lavender and lavender jams from a shed-turned-gift shop, while she bakes up a selection of lavender-based cakes and other delicious homemade nibbles for visitors to savour.
Joanna has also managed to combine her other passion for medieval history with the lavender business. "When I started this business I realised just opening from June to August wasn't going to keep it going and I tried craft fairs and farmers' markets, but just by chance I got involved in a history show and went to a battle re-enactment and from there it just took off," she explains. "I got asked to go to more and more medieval events and that's how we run the business out of season: by going to the medieval fairs and selling the lavender products."
For this reason they will be holding their own Chetwynd Medieval Fair on the weekend of July 25-26, recreating the Middle Ages in commemoration of a market licence granted to Chetwynd in 1318. In support of Chetwynd Church, Shropshire Wildlife Trust and The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, there will be medieval re-enactors trading from authentic tents offering period goods, a barber-surgeon with gruesome demonstrations, falconers, have-a-go-archery, knights in armour, craft stalls, and more, promising a fun family day out.
Joanna has the contented tone of someone who is doing something she really loves. She has managed to turn what would have otherwise been an unused plot of
land, into something beautiful which serves as her business and can also be enjoyed by many. So why not enjoy a fragrant summer's day out?
The lavender fields are open Fridays and weekends from Saturday June 27 until August 16, from 2pm-6pm. Shropshire Lavender Wellbank Farm, Pickstock, Newport TF10 8AH.
Tel: 01952 550303. www.shropshirelavender.co.uk