Leonie’s lavender garden, neatly tucked up under weedmat.
lsie Hall is a huge inspiration to a newer grower like Leonie Rouse, and now she’s working with it, she has discovered she loves lavender more than ever. “We have a lifestyle block and we had goats and sheep and chooks, you know what’s it like. Then I read an article and it was all about Elsie’s lavender and how she started off and that’s what got me going. I just thought it was a plant that I’d love to work with and it is, you get out there and you work with it and it feels amazing. The smell… and even in winter the plants look good.”
Leonie has around 1800-2000 plants – “it’s what you would call a large lavender garden” – and while she chose a north-facing site with free draining soil, she was also aware if she wanted to attract visitors to buy lavender oil-based products, it was no good hiding away the glory of lavender in full bloom. That’s why her crop lines either side of the driveway and smothers a roadside paddock. There’s also a display garden of the 60 purple, blue, white and pink varieties Leonie has collected, all selling itself to people driving past.
“It’s not even half an acre, not a big area, but enough to mow. I love looking at lavender farms and I thought other people might too. We love it, I love people’s reactions, people who come in are people who love lavender and they love wandering round.”
Each year, Leonie and husband Trevor harvest their small crop by hand, Trevor slashing down the flowers with a sickle. Then they get in the car and drive to Amberley to visit distillers Keith and Charlotte Brown. Within an hour of arriving, they’re on their way home again with a bottle of oil that Leonie will use in her hand-crafted soaps, lotions, balms and other products over the next year.
The Rouses have three English varieties for oil – Pacific Blue, Violet Intrigue and Avis Hill – and the high yielding intermediary, oil-only variety Grosso, blooming at different times over summer.
“Grosso has a huge yield. If I had 100kg of Gross (flowers), I would get over four litres of oil; if I did the same for an English I’d get probably 1½ litres, so for sheer volume you go for Grosso. I would say selling through markets, 80% of my sales are for Grosso. It’s because it has the camphor in it and people like that, but it’s preferential, everyone is different.” Lavender under snow survives, going into dormancy.
METHOD If you’re using fresh flowers, grind them up to a fine mix using a mortar and pestle. Add lavender and honey to butter, then mix. Shape into a log about 4-5cm round, then wrap in waxed paper and chill for 3-4 days in the fridge to allow the flavours to infuse. Serve on hot scones or fresh bread. METHOD Heat the milk, vanilla essence, honey and fresh lavender in a heavy pot and bring to a gentle boil. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and test for flavour – if the lavender taste isn’t strong, add more flowers and bring back to a gentle boil. This is important as if it’s too weak now, the lavender taste won’t carry through into the finished mix once it’s frozen. Remove the lavender flowers, but don’t worry if any little bits of flower remain. Whisk the sugar and egg yolks until pale and add to the pot. Keep on a gentle heat, stirring continuously until it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Leave to cool. Process in an ice cream maker or pour into a shallow plastic container, place in the freezer and stir every couple of hours to stop ice crystals forming.