One day, Nancy looked out their window in Wales and imagined a modest lavender hedge like the one they had in their garden down in Oxford. A friend suggested she apply for a grant from a group that supported local farmers and encouraged diversification. Given that the climate and soil in Wales is a far cry from that of the Mediterranean, many people thought she was crazy, but she applied for and received the grant to plant what became a field of lavender. Neighboring farmers thought for sure the lavender would grow in their rich, red earth even though it wasn't anything like the chalky, lime soil that lavender prefers.
|Lavender fields in the Maesmynis Valley, Wales.|
As an experiment, Nancy distilled a small amount of lavender in 2009. Since then, she has purchased a larger still and plans to launch a line of pure, natural skin care products this summer in cooperation with Helen Lowe, who began her cosmetics career with the London herbalist, G. Balwin and Co. According to their website www.welshlavender.com, they are on track to ship to sellers sometime this month (July 2011).
|New distillation equipment.|
Lavender farming and distillation is a far cry from the exciting world of free-lance journalism that Nancy specializes in. Not only did she report on the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989, the break-up of the Soviet bloc, and the shifting population migration that followed, but she traveled to Iraq in 2004 as a correspondent for CBS television, one year after she planted her lavender fields. Since then, she has also reported from the war in Afghanistan, no doubt returning to her lavender farms as a refuge from the conflict.
Nancy and Bill grow four varieties of lavender: Maillette, a cloned variety of Lavandula angustifolia; Grosso, a type of Lavandula x intermedia (a sterile hybrid of Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia grown from cuttings); and two types of true lavender (L. angustifolia) just for sachets and bunches called Royal Purple and Imperial Gem.
What started out as a wistful desire for a short hedge, turned into a full-fledged business that appears to have a bright future. Ruby Lefant and Welsh Lavender, we'll keep an eye on you!
For more information, check out their website at www.welshlavender.com or the following snailmail address:
Nancy Durham and Bill-Newton Smith
Welsh Lavender Limited
Builth Wells, Powys
Wales LD2 3HU
(No, that's not a typo in the third line. I dare you to try and say it...)