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The history behind English Lavender grown at Castle Farm, Sevenoaks and links to Yardley London

Fields across Kent are currently blooming with bright blankets of purple lavender sat ready to be harvested and shipped across the world.

The quality of the plant grown here is so high, its extracted oils are wanted across the food and beauty industries.

One farm in the county that produces more than 140 acres of the crop each year is Castle Farm in Sevenoaks.

Today, it is managed by William and Caroline Alexander and their three children, Lorna, Thomas and Crispin.

The Alexander family have been growing the dried flowers in their fields on Redmans Lane since 1998 but the history goes way back before then.

The iconic fields as we know them today were made possible thanks to one farmer who made an interesting journey down from Scotland.

Owner William Alexander, said: "It was my great-grandfather James who came down from Ayrshire in Scotland in 1892. He brought with him 17 dairy cows on a train to Kent and took up tenancy here in the Darent Valley and the farm expanded from there.

From 1957, David Clarke (tractor) Steve Ledner (drill), James, William and young William. Picture: Castle Farm
From 1957, David Clarke (tractor) Steve Ledner (drill), James, William and young William. Picture: Castle Farm

"When my father was here it was then centered around dairy and milk production. But because we don't get as much rainfall, a lot of dairy production now happens in the North and West of England. That's why we developed into dried flowers which were really popular in the 1980s and 90s.

"Then the market for dried flowers declined so we looked at other opportunities and wanted to grow crops for essential oils. We first grew lavender on the farm in 1998. We set up a distillery and worked with camomile, lavender and rosemary.

"In more recent years it has become almost entirely focused on lavender. Currently we grow about 90 acres and we're distilling about 140 acres this year."

July is when lavender grows in abundance and is therefore the best time to harvest. Mr Alexander says lavender grown in Kent is some of the best quality grown across the world thanks to our climate.

He said: "Lavender is a dry loving plant that doesn't like acidic soils so it does well on alkaline sands and chalk and of course the North Downs has plenty of that.

William Alexander and Daughter Lorna. Picture: Castle Farm
William Alexander and Daughter Lorna. Picture: Castle Farm

"In Victorian times, lavender from this area was put in bouquets, it was worn and even used to stem the smell of the sewers. The industry then sort of died up and it wasn't until the early 2000 there was a renaissance of lavender production."

One company that knows just how valuable Kentish lavender can be is Yardley London. The company now celebrating 250 years has been sourcing lavender in Kent since the 1930s.

The luxury brand works with five farms producing the English Lavender oil on the slopes of the North Downs, with Castle Farm being one of the largest.

Yardley's head of marketing Karen Cullen says a lot of their products are made possible thanks to the hard work of Kentish farmers.

Ms Cullen said: "Yardley has been using the Kent area for lavender sourcing for a number of years and the history goes back to the 1930s. Yardley sent its scientists all around the world to search for the best quality lavender and they actually discovered it right on their doorsteps in the south east.

The oils are in high demand worldwide. Picture: Castle Farm
The oils are in high demand worldwide. Picture: Castle Farm

"The species they found growing in the South of England is the best quality English Lavender and once they discovered it, the business continued to source from here in the 30s right up until now."

Yardley London uses the oils made in Kent across all of its products from au de toilettes, soaps, body sprays, lotions and hand creams which are then sold worldwide.

Getting it from Kentish fields to the bottle as Ms Cullen explains, is a finely tuned process.

She added: "The fields are harvested and the lavender is picked. It then goes through what is called a distilling process so on the farms they have massive drums which the lavender goes into and then the oil is extracted. It's then in its purest form and bottled and sent to fragrance houses.

"The oil is then turned into a fragrance formulation. For example they may mix other oils with the lavender to produce the end fragrance which is then bottled and sold."

But it's not just the beauty industry with interest, more recently Castle Farm has also been working on developing lavender as a flavour in food.

Along with other companies in Kent, the Alexanders have used lavender to flavour ice-creams, chocolates and scones while selling lavender culinary products in its shops for people to use at home.

Castle Farm has now reopened with social distancing measures in place.

The Hop Shop offers drive though booking and the fields can be explored at designated time slots.

To book your visit before the harvest, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Sevenoaks


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