Garden Diary - June 2013

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Carousel Farm Lavender: Provence in Pennsylvania

Today's outing by the Tohickon Garden Club is a visit to Carousel Farm Lavender.
I've been before but another visit in harvest season is not to be missed.

Some background: while on a visit to France, in Provence, Niko and his partner were enchanted by the lavender fields for which the region is renown: a landscape with a stunning backdrop of centuries-old fieldstone barns and farmhouses, rolling hills, and lavender fields. Carousel Farm with its fieldstone farmhouse, 18th century stone barn and gently sloping fields broken only by fieldstone walls seemed ideal, the perfect place to replicate the South of France. Its several incarnations - as a dairy farm, a horse farm, even an exotic animal farm (that's where the Carousel Farm name came from) - and now, an organic lavender farm. Bought in 2000 the next three years were spent on renovations - removing dropped ceilings to reveal the hand hewn beams, lifting and discarding purple shag carpeting, adding modern amenities like air condition while still respecting the spirit of place of a farm first established in 1748. Then they began planting lavender, thousands of plants. Today, ten years after they began planting, in summer 15,000 lavender plants lay a purple haze over the landscape.

To visit: the fields are open to the public on Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you want more than a stroll through the lavender fields there are two options for guided tours. On weekdays from June 5 through September 30, groups of 10 or more can pick a day and have a tour. There is a $10 per person charge. Every Wednesday has a scheduled tour at 10:00 a.m., Individuals welcome, advance registration suggested for groups.

Walk through the lavender field and learn about lavender cultivation. See the harvesting,
drying, and distillation process. Visit the stone spring house / wine cellar, and finish up in
the shop with a diversity of products for sale. The informative tour takes about 90 minutes.

Harvesting is under way. This is a field of Grosso lavender, used for distilling.

The lavender is cut by hand.

It is set aside. More is cut. Armfuls

are brought down to a work area. Today's summery weather makes the outdoors
under the shade of mature trees a pleasant space. The lavender is bunched and then

brought to a dim room in one of the stone buildings and hung to dry.

Other armfuls are brought to a different building to be steam distilled into hydrosol
and lavender oil. Essential oils using the straight steam method involves pushing steam
through the plant material, rupturing the oil membranes and releasing the essential oil.

The metal cylinder is packed full of lavender, both flowers and some stems. Steam is forced through the mass of plant material. The steam carries the essential oil to a condenser and then as it re-liquefies the lighter essential oil floats on top. Here it is cold well water that is used to condense the now aromatic steam. The water and oil are then separated out. The water is referred to as hydrosol or floral water. And the oil is the essential oil.

. . . . .

Ever wonder why essential oils are as costly as they are? The large alembic is collecting the hydrosol, which is used externally, for skin care, household cleaner, laundry spray. The significantly smaller volume of pale yellow oil is the essential lavender oil. The lavender oil will be taken off into another container to age for several months, ridding it of extraneous plant esters and water.

Niko urged us to stroke the plants. This is Hidcote, also aromatic
It is a better choice for culinary purposes. Herbs de Provence, for example.

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