Castle Farm’s lavender harvest: our fragrant field trip

Lavender is having a moment in fragrance right now – according to a repot by the NPD group, sales of prestige lavender beauty products in the U.K. have increased by a staggering 552% from January 2019 to the end of April 2019. So you might have previously dismissed it as ‘grandma’s scent’, but get ready to leave your lavender preconceptions at the door…

When you think of a purple swathe of lavender being harvested for the perfume industry, your mind possibly strays to the fields of Provence. But did you know we have our own beautiful lavender farms right on our doorstop in the U.K?

We paid a visit with the British Essential Oil Association on a field trip to Castle Farm in Sevenoaks, Kent, to see the lavender harvest in action and – most excitingly – to see their very own distillery, and watch those tiny flowers be turned into the most lusciously fragrant essential oil: from field to bottle, in front of our very eyes (and noses)…

Starting our day with a glass of apple juice from the farm and a lavender shortbread biscuit, we ignored the gathering clouds and headed out to the fields to learn about the differing types of lavender they grow there, and how the oils from them are used.

The Alexander Family have been farming in the Darent Valley since 1892, when the enterprising James Alexander apparently brought down 17 milking cows on the train from Ayrshire in Scotland. Today, the farm is managed by William and Caroline Alexander, with involvement from each of their children, Lorna, Thomas and Crispin, and supported by the hard-working Castle Farm team.

The lavender farm was established in 1985, when William and Caroline went to market – Covent Garden as it happens – selling dried hops. By 1990, The Hop Shop (as Castle Farm is also known) was a major producer of dried flowers, growing over 70 different flowers and won many awards, including 5 consecutive Gold Medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Now the farm is a sprawling 1,100 acres, with crops of wheat, barley, rapeseed, hops, apples, pumpkins and a grass-fed herd of beef cattle. And, of course, the magnificent fields of lavender – the largest lavender farm in the U.K.

In the distillery, they had the ingenious idea of using the trucks that harvest the lavender to directly distill the essential oil from – time is of the literally essence for the highest quality yield – and so they put a lid on top of the container, in which 7 tonnes of lavender are heated to 100° in just ten minutes. From there, a huge pipe is attached to catch the and filter the steam to the tanks in a large barn.

As we stood with steam wafting around our ankles, the smell became almost overpowering – it felt like the lavender fields had been turned into a sauna, with misty swirls of mineralic steam mixing with the scent of drying hay and engine oil. A bit like being on a steam train in a dream. A truly surreal and unforgettable experience. And then, of course, we got to smell the oils themselves…

Premium Lavender Oil: An elite single origin oil – luxuriously delicate with exceptional fragrance notes for aromatherapy. Intensely pure. ‘This oil is extracted solely from our Maillette Lavender plants – and taken in the first 20 minutes of distillation only – making it the finest and most delicate of our lavender fragrances.’ With all the characteristics of a ‘high altitude Lavender Oil’ (which, we learned, has nothing whatever to do with the altitude a lavender’s grown at, and everything to do with the type of lavender and how long it’s distilled for!)

Kentish Lavender Oil: A high-grade, honeyed, gentle Lavender essential oil with antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and mild anesthetic properties. This oil is made from their Lavandula Angustifolia, grown and distilled on Castle Farm. Widely used in aromatherapy, perfumery and medicine, the pure oil is safe for use directly on the skin.

Kentish Lavandin Oil: Lavandula x intermedia is extracted from Castle Farm’s Grosso plant variety and has a strong, cleansing and refreshing scent with elements of camphor. Often used for room fragrancing, candles, as a moth repellant and to clear cold-sufferers’ heads, the fragrance is comforting but less nuanced than the others, which are more suitable for perfumery.

The oils are sold in the farm shop, and online, and also sold to private companies for use in the fragrance and beauty industry.

The Hop Shop – is open daily throughout the year, however the Castle Farm Lavender fields are only in flower from late June until late July. Lavender plants for sale from the shop from late April/early May, but they explain, ‘the Lavender season really gets underway in mid-June and the glorious scent and vibrant colour of the fields fill the valley and we start to hand cut fresh Lavender bunches. Harvesting for oil starts in mid July and continues until early August, but is obviously weather dependent.’

Of course, on the day they began harvesting and the morning of our field trip – the heavens opened. If the rain lasts too long, half the entire crop can be lost in under an hour. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before we could venture out from under the trees and take photos – Castle Farm had the brilliant idea of including an Instagram Field, complete with perfectly positioned bench, so people can take scented selfies to their heart’s content, without disturbing the harvesting. Genius!

And to show it really is a family affari, this photo (above) is of William and Caroline’s grandaughter, taken by their talented son.

Castle Farm began harvesting while we were there, ‘…but it takes us over a week to clear all the fields, and the distillery is now running daily. We completed harvest of the large field at the back of the valley on 22nd July, but our field with the Lavender Bench and viewing area will NOT be harvested until after this weekend (27/28 July). We are still running Lavender Tours until we harvest our very last field!’

You can book online for weekday tours, or on arrival at the farm for weekend tours.

We’re not sure if it was the supremely soothing smell of the lavender or how long we’d been traipsing through the fragrant fields – possible a mixture of both – but goodness, we slept well that night.

We were also enthused to seek out four of our favourite lavender fragrances and urge you to do likewise. Forget the aromatherapy benefits for a moment and focus instead on the incredible nuances that lavender can add to a scent…

Atkinsons Lavender On the Rocks
True to the cocktail-esque name, this one has a double-shot of lavender to tickle your fancy. From the bracingly fresh opening with geranium and basil to the honeyed hay-like dry down with almond, guaiac wood and saffron, every facet is allowed to shine.
£130 for 100ml eau de parfum
harrods.com

Creed Aberdeen Lavender
An Oriental fougére, absinthe is added to rosemary, bergamot and lemon before succumbing to a powdered, musky lavender ramped up with tuberose, iris and a dusky rose. Dark patchouli, smoky leather and cool vetiver make for a surprisingly sexy flourish.
£200 for 100ml eau de parfum
libertylondon.com

Milano Centro HIM
Luminescent citrus segues to a herbaceously dappled breeze of rosemary, lavender and basil. As it warms, you’re swathed in the musky warmth of smooth sandalwood and suavely sprinkled spicy notes of clove, cinnamon and amber atop a darkly glimmering patchouli base.

Want to try it for yourself? Find this in our Explorer Men’s Discovery Box – along with SIXTEEN other fragrances to explore!

Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Extrême
Trust Tom to turn lavender sexy. Here it’s subverted into an electric floral ‘to be worn at maximum volume.’ Bergamot drenches the lavender with freshness at first, then it’s full-on delicious with wild-grown tonka and creamy benzoin swirled to perfection.
£220 for 50ml eau de parfum
johnlewis.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Can listening to this scented story help you sleep…?

Insomnia can strike at any time, and stressed-out sufferers are increasingly turning to ‘sleep apps’ of various kinds to try and catch a few zzzzzzs. Now, Stephen Fry is offering to tell you a bedtime story, gently soothing you to sleep… and all within 24 minutes, apparently.
Few celebrities attain ‘national treasure’ status, but Fry is certainly one of them – famed for his dulcet tones, quick-wit, writing and acting abilities. Now he’s putting that sonorous voice to work by narrating a bedtime story for a sleep app called Calm. Themed around the lavender fields of Provence, the story for adults, called ‘Blue Gold‘ [ scroll down to listen an extract] invites listeners to close their eyes and imagine the purple-hued flowers in all their glory, guiding you through their cultivation and distillation techniques while describing the golden sunlight and snow-capped mountains beyond…

Makers of the app at Calm say: ‘We challenge anyone to stay awake for all 24 minutes of this sleep-inducing masterpiece by Stephen Fry.’

Just in case the sound of Stephen Fry’s voice wasn’t enough to lull you, the makers also produce a Sleep Mist you can purchase online and spritz to take you even deeper into those lavender fields. Described as a ‘natural elixir of lavender, frankincense, chamomile and clary sage essential oils’, Calm hope the spray will ‘transform your pillow and create a relaxing environment for sleep.’
The story by Stephen Fry is free, along with several others to choose from, with further stories available to download from their website. Listen to an extract below, and get set to feel calmer already…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Scents of solace: five fragrances to love and Hygge

There are times when a hug from someone you love is not possible, when well-meaning words of kindness simply will not suffice. It is then we reach for other sources of comfort – a cosy blanket, a much-loved book, a favourite fragrance…
2016 has witnessed various outpourings of sadness as much-loved celebrities have passed away and world events have bemused, bewildered and terrified in turn. You’ve probably noticed the Danish and Norwegian word, ‘Hygge’, is everywhere – not easily translated, it basically invokes a feeling of cosiness, hunkering down and surrounding yourself with comforting, nurturing things. Those of us who treasure the power of perfume know only too well its ability to amplify or even alter our mood, so is it any wonder we may turn to fragrance when seeking solace from one thing or another?

Photo by Urbanara.co.uk
Photo by Urbanara.co.uk

In controlled tests, the smell of vanilla has been shown time and again to elicit a soothing response, with some positing the suggestion the scent links us to childhood memories of warm milk, soft puddings, sticky bags of bonbons or even suckling at the breast. Others point to studies showing the reduced ‘startle-reflex’ effect in animals, when a vanilla smell is dispersed during stressful situations – including those who aren’t naturally suckled – and suggesting something far more complex is at work than a foodie’s blissful reverie.
Our sense of smell is so deeply rooted in emotion and memory, that scientists are only just beginning to piece together a hazy map of understanding which neurones fire-up when certain scents are wafted beneath our nostrils, and why they elicit such intense responses…
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For full-on vanilla bean gently buffed by the honeyed piquancy of quince and dark trickle of Peru balsam, we suggest you indulge your inner-magpie with this gloriously glittery bottle of what is, basically, an extremely sexy custard. Or crème anglaise, to put it more chicly. Either way, its decadently delicious and as it’s a limited edition, you should stock up now for future emergencies.
Michel Kors Midnight Shimmer £53.10 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Boots
Lavender, too, has long been used to soothe more than skin irritations, and Shakespeare’s Ophelia citing ‘rosemary for remembrance’ has been proved very possibly correct, extensive tests revealing concentration and memory can be greatly increased when sniffing the essential oil while studying and then accurately recalling lessons learned.
31tldkmpol-_sy300_One of the first flowers distilled by founder Olivier Baussan, L’Occitane uses lavender sourced from farmers’ cooperatives in Haute-Provence. This aromatic tribute to their homeland is the softest way there is to soothe frazzled nerves. We recommend dabbing directly on the temples and breathing deeply…
L’Occitane Lavender Relaxing Roll-On £12 for 10ml Cologne
Buy it at uk.loccitane.com
It isn’t just sprigs of fresh herbs and pure oils, of course: a perfume of any kind can be a powerful spell, if not to banish the black dog then at least to stop it growling for a while – a fragrance foothold on the slippery slope of adversity. And incense as a perfume ingredient is on the rise once again, with contemporary perfumers not merely evoking the frankincense-infused pews of a church, but using it in more intriguing ways.
205-73060631-dr100mrpf_mFabrice Pellegrin blends bergamot and a bracing splash of petit grain before spiralling into a hint of mint that awakens the senses (without smelling like mouthwash, we are happy to report). The dreamy haze of incense, iris and vanilla drift us to a mellow place where fevered brows are soothed by cool hands and everything is alright.
Dear Rose Mentha Religiossa £155 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Selfridges
Is there a particular perfume that raises a smile as you picture a loved one – a single spray and they appear: a genie from a scent bottle? Perhaps you have a fragrance to bolster your confidence – one to wear at that tough meeting, a scent equivalent to shoulder pads, a perfectly tailored suit or backbone in a bottle?
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Unapolagetically flirtatious, this is a snuggly cashmere stole nonchalantly draped around bare shoulders – white peony and Bulgarian rose melding beautifully into a bouquet that’s distinctly on the naughtier side of floral. And here the base is enhanced with a vivacious vetiver, which we always find becalming, don’t you?
Narcisso Rodriguez £35 for 30ml eau de toilette
Buy it at The Perfume Shop
Whether your choice of scent finds you full to the brim with girlish glee or finding succour in sadness as you revel in the emotion and let it find its natural level – in trying times, those pretty potions can be invisible shields, comfort blankets, a whole panoply of anchors or escape routes, if you only know where to find them.
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A blissful blanket with a steely underbelly sounds like something of a misnomer, but this just seems to exude waves of smooth confidence. ‘You’ll want to wrap it around you, lose yourself in the depth of the moment and suspend time’, they say. With rose, vanilla, a fizzy violet-powdered cloud and base of benzoin, we couldn’t agree more.
Maison Francis Kurkdjin Oud Satin Mood £195 for 70ml eau de parfum
Buy it at House of Fraser
What are your favourite fragrances to spritz when the going gets tough? Do get in touch by Tweeting, posting a picture and tagging us on Instagram or e-mail us – we’d love to know!
Now then, altogether: let us spray…
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Lavender true… five scents to make your heart sigh for an everlasting summer

Swathes of purple patches embellishing the countryside truly lift the soul – there’s something about seeing simplicity en-masse that becomes staggeringly beautiful…
184117-Lavender
Aesthetically pleasing we can all agree, but many fragrance fans unfairly discount a dominant note of lavender in perfumery as being ;old-fashioned; – perhaps recalling scented drawer-sachets or bath salts that rarely use the high quality, perfume-grade lavender, and instead the far cheaper, dusty-old-drawer smelling low quality essential oil or even poorly made synthetic lavender.
Judge not, oh ye of little fragrance faith, until you have read on!
Known in Provence as ;blue gold;, the best lavender used in perfumery tends to be grown in higher altitudes, and often doesn’t at all resemble what we think we know lavender smells of. Pure lavender essential oil can be spicy, peppery, herbaceous, misty, smoky or green and many cannot identify the note when asked to sniff blind.
Recently we took a group of our VIP Subscribers to the wonderful Mitchell & Peach Lavender Farm in Kent, and everyone was enchanted by the picturesque countryside and the family’s in-depth knowledge and passion for the land and the crops they tend there.
Mitchel_Peach_Jod
With lavender having a resurgence as a note to rediscover in contemporary fragrances we suggested you try, it is also important to appreciate those British classics that have withstood the test of time, and fragrances that cherish it as the “hero note” – revelling in their true lavender love.
You can read more about the history of lavender’s use in perfumery on our fascinating Ingredients section of the website, but in the meantime, here’s our edit of the absolute must-try lavender scents. And every time you spray, you can keep summer alive that little bit longer…
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Freshly aromatic with a twist of eucalyptus and rosemary with the traditional lavender, the heart is a tender bouquet of geranium, rose and orange flower, with an earthier base of patchouli and musk for a dusky trail…
Bronnley Lavender £13.50 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at bronnley.co.uk
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Made by the Cistertian monks of tiny Caldey island in south west Wales, this is humbly presented yet unexpectedly sublime – all fresh air, hazy dawns and mist-draped secret gardens. Almost slightly minty, it’s like a late Summer breeze in a bottle…
Caldey Island Lavender £17.50 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at caldey-island.co.uk
Yardley-English-Lavender
With a green hay-like sweetness, this is Yardley London’s signature fragrance. Beautifully elegant, lavender leaves enhance the freshness on top, then the oil is infused with neroli and clary sage, geranium,  sandalwood and tonka for a smooth dry-down…
Yardley English Lavender £9.99 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy it at Boots
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With zesty lemon, verbena and grapefruit shot through the composition of this ultra-green lavender, it’s a wakeup call for the senses. Gauzy jasmine and delicate hints of amber intrigue the cedarwood trail…
Crabtree & Evelyn Verbena and Lavender de Provence £20 for 30ml Cologne
Buy it at crabtree-evelyn.co.uk
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One of the very first flowers distilled by founder Olivier Baussan, L’Occitane uses lavender directly sourced from farmers’ cooperatives in Haute-Provence. This aromatic tribute to their homeland is the softest way there is to soothe frazzled nerves…
L’Occitane Lavender Relaxing Roll-On £12 for 10ml Cologne
Buy it at uk.loccitane.com
Do you have a favourite lavender fragrance, or have you tried one recently that really changed your mind? Do get in touch by Tweeting, posting a picture and tagging us on Instagram or e-mail us here – we’d love to hear about it!
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Mitchell and Peach – outstanding in their field(s) of lavender. We loved them so much, we invited you, too!

For five generations, the incredibly photogenic Mitchells have been farming the same land deep in the heart of Kent – The ‘Garden of England’ – and cultivating everything from apples, strawberries, cobnuts, honey and chamomile. But it’s the lavender they’re perhaps most famous for – a swathe of purple shocking commuters into delighted squeals who glimpse it from their packed train carriages (ourselves included!) and gaze longingly as it hurries past…
introduction_2015
Imagine how thrilled we were, then, to receive an invitation to a press day at Mitchell and Peach. We immediately envisaged ourselves wafting through the fields wearing white summer dresses and straw hats, perhaps carrying a wooden trug brimming with the fragrant blooms – like a 1970s shampoo advert bathed in sunshine. Of course it rained (of course!) cometh the day, but it was absolutely impossible not to feel ridiculously happy surrounded by such beauty (seriously, even their barns are beautiful) – and by people who clearly cared so much about their crops and the gorgeously scented products they now make with them.
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From 1923 to 1972, the Mitchells ran a thriving market stand on the south-west corner of old Covent Garden in London. Having celebrated 100 years at Foxbury Farm, it still remains the centre of their estate to this day, and continuing in the family’s tradition while diversifying their offerings, Ian and Jod Mitchell (see main picture) planted fine lavender on the estate.
photo copy
Such great quality were the essences distilled from this plantation, they were inspired to create a bath and body range, planted more lavender to keep up with demand and trial crops including chamomile – so wonderfully soothing and far more fragrant than you’d imagine when the petals are crushed beneath your fingers – and beehives for their fragrantly delicious honey. Here’s “Brett the Bee Man” (below) who guided us around the hives and so proudly explained his work…
Brett the Bee man at Mitchell and Peach
 
Far from the slightly fusty image some may have of a family business in such idyllic surroundings engaged in creating fragrances, skin-care and scented grooming products, this is no kitchen-table job. The perfumes are exquisite and so reminisent of their surroundings, yet totally contemporary and wearable by all. The streamlined, stylish packaging also enhances their no-nonsense ethos, and we left seriously impressed by everything we’d seen and smelled (and tasted – we highly recommend lavender as a swizzle stick!)
M&P drink
In fact, so impressed, we knew we just had to invite our VIP Subscribers along to share the treat with us – and what a treat it proved to be. Even the sun shone for our return visit…
13‘A sophisticated floral structured around rose, ylang ylang, peony and lavender, emboldened with larkspur and sweet fennel. This outstanding perfume is hand-blended in England with pure essential oils from the Mitchell estate. The result is a distinctive fine fragrance with a singular depth, warmth and elegance.’
Mitchell and Peach Fora No.1 £75 for 50ml eau de parfum
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‘A bright “green floral” inspired by the lush countryside of Foxbury Farm, the home of Mitchell and Peach. This unique scent is hand blended with natural extracts including soft citrus, coriander leaves, basil, mint and floral oils from the Mitchell Estate. It possesses an uplifting, aromatic freshness redolent of ‘mown meadows’, with a hint of musky cedar wood to lend complexity and depth.’
Mitchell and Peach English Leaf £55 for 50ml eau de toilette
Buy them at Mitchell and Peach
Written by Suzy Nightingale
 

Häagen-Dazs limited edition floral-themed ice creams at Liberty London (well we HAD to try them, for research, didn’t we…?)

We’re well known for supporting innovative ways of incorporating scent into our everyday lives – with perfume (obvs) but also frgrancing our homes and enjoying perfume in all its myriad ways of enriching our experiences of almost anything. So of course when we heard about Häagen-Dazs releasing a limited edition Spring collection of ‘floral-themed’ ice creams exclsuive to Liberty, we just had to go and taste for ourselves. It’s reasearch, darling! Also our offices are right next door, and it’s nice to make time to go and see your neighbours, right?

Häagen-Dazs say: ‘Häagen-Dazs Lychee Raspberry Rose is a fragrant delight that is a perfect balance of aromatic rose, sweet lychee and intense raspberry, whilst Apricot Lavender is a delightful combination of fruit and aroma, blended to refresh and relax. In keeping with the Häagen-Dazs quality gold standard, both varieties are made from a base of only four kitchen-friendly ingredients: fresh cream, real milk, sugar and free-range eggs.’

PINT LRR_3DHaving taken over the iconic Carnaby Street window of Liberty’s (see main picture) with a stunning floral display designed by Rebecca Louise Law, a bespoke flower-installation artist based in London’s Columbia Road – a bevvy of blossoms entice floral fans within to celebrate the launch, and we were willing to be enticed, let’s admit it.

Attention to detail is everything with both brands, and so the union of Liberty and Häagen-Dazs resulted in really pretty illustrted tubs being specially comissioned and designed by Jardins de Babylone – a team of botanical artists from Paris – so they make a perfect match for their salubrious surroundings.

What did our research reaveal…? Well, we’re pleased to report the floral notes are subtle enough to be distinctive without at all tasting like you’re ‘eating perfume’ – it’s a whispered hint on the palate and perfectly balanced by the creaminess and cleansing slivers of fresh fruit. After extensive testing, the office team are slightly favouring the Apricot/Lavender combination; though we may have to test again, just to be really sure which our favourite is…

PINT AL_3DThe Häagen-Dazs Little Gardens range is available exclusively at Liberty London (Regent Street, W1B 5AH) at an RRP of £5.95. They’re available for the next couple of weeks only while stocks last – but we suggest you get your [ice-cream] skates on, for as you may imagine, they’re proving very popular…

To find out more, visit Häagen-Dazs.co.u

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Dunhill lauches Icon (in one of the most stunning male fragrance bottles we’ve ever seen)

In the wrong hands, the hefty Dunhill Icon bottle might be something of a lethal weapon. Inspired by the finish of a vintage lighter, it’s tactile and seriously expensive-feeling – but it’s the ‘juice’ inside which we’re enjoying. (And with Valentine’s Day approaching, this is a definite contender for anyone contemplating a fragrant gesture…)

The perfumer, Carlos Benaïm, breezed into town and shared his thoughts on creating Icon. (VIP Subscribers can read one of our Nose-to-nose Q+As with Carlos – whose roll-call of fragrances includes Viktor & Rolf Flowerbombhere.)

‘This was a joy for me,’ Carlos told us, eyes a-twinkling. I knew the Dunhill store from New York and I’d always found it extremely elegant – truly iconic, which made this a very apt name for a fragrance. It started with vetiver, lavender and leather; I’ve worked with leather a lot, but in this case I worked alongside Alienor Massenet, coming with an accord that has a sort of suede feeling. You don’t always start from scratch with a fragrance; often, you take accords which already have some complexity, and then piece them together, as we did here…

The iris gives a sort of violet-sweetness, and I chose it specifically to soften the vetiver. Then I built up the fragrance with spices, which were also very important: cardamom, pink pepper, a touch of juniper.

But at the point I wasn’t satisfied; it just wasn’t fresh and clear enough. So at that point, I developed a totally separate accord: mandarin, neroli, bergamot. Together they created a very beautiful citrus element; it was just an idea I had and I executed it on the spot, and it just felt right – as a perfumer you sometimes get a moment of surprise when you think, “wow, this is really something good”. At that point there was just a little bit too much neroli, but with a small adjustment, it was there.

That brightened the other elements of the fragrance – and it was what Icon needed, to become complete…’

Dunhill Icon From £58 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at: Harrods (and in selected department stores from 30th March)

Written by Jo Fairley

Feeling even more lavender love: a little film brought to you by Yardley

From field to flacon. We love those stories. (It’s like ‘farm to fork’, but for perfumistas.)

So if you’ve two minutes or so, you might want to look at a mini-movie about the lavender fields of Kent where Yardley source the English lavender for – yes, Yardley English Lavender.

It’s been a great year for lavender – and this little film  is so evocative, you can almost smell the rolling purple hills. (And can we just add: we’re loving the birdsong…!)


Written by Jo Fairley