Most farms have tucked away areas full of discarded objects overgrown with weeds and grass. The Lavender Farm is no different. One such object we unearthed looks like a bench crossed with an early bone shaker bicycle without the wheels, but it is in fact an efficient besom broom making machine.
Looking like nothing more than a stick with twigs stuck on, or upside-down supermodel having a bad hair day, the besom broom is instantly recognisable to most of us as the witches broom. However, it was for centuries the typical broom. It was traditionally made with a hawthorn stave for the handle and birch twigs for the brush part, but heather, straw and herbs were also used. The twigs were attached to the stave with a split withy, a thin flexible branch from the willow tree, or twine made from brambles or other suitable plant, but string and a nail are used today. Its distinctive appearance is partly due to the twigs being tied around the end of the stave, giving it a rounded shape rather than being flat ended as more modern brooms are.
The besom has seen an increase in popularity in recent years in line with more interest in woodland management and using renewable materials. If looked after, a besom will last fifteen years, it looks better than a plastic or metal handled broom, and when its worn out just throw it on the bonfire rather than landfill it.
So why the connection between witches and brooms? There is all sorts of hokum connected with brooms and folklore. According to J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, witches chose brooms to make magic because they were easy to hide. A variation on this is that it was a way of camouflaging a staff, the handle, which was used to harness magical powers.
They were also used to symbolically sweep away harmful energy and protect houses and their occupants. You can also turn them up the wrong way for good luck or jump over them for the same effect.
There is, perhaps, a more believable origin for the mystical reputation of such a humble tool. Before trained medical professionals became the norm for healthcare, a local woman, often a widow or spinster, would dispense herbs and potions and help with childbirth. Because such things could be effective but no one really knew why they were sometimes accused of witchcraft and, as they were women who at the time were strongly associated with housework, the broom became part of the magical image.
In Welsh folklore they were used as an important part of marriage ceremonies. All the couple had to do was place a broom across the doorway of their home-to-be and both jump over it. If neither of them knocked it over then the marriage would be a success, if they did then it would end in disaster and the whole thing was called off. If they decided that they’d had enough in the first year they could jump the broom leaving the house and they’d be divorced.
Whether you want one as part of your Halloween fancy dress, to fly over the rooftops, or to sweep worm casts from the lawn, they are also decorative and environmentally friendly, and very much in use today.
Easily overlooked tucked underneath old farm buildings and warehouses, the humble staddle stone was an important part of the structure. Originally made of timber, stone became the norm for its strength and durability.
There are two main reasons for using them.
The first is to raise the barn, grain store or other structure off the ground. This kept them above the damp earth and helped air circulate underneath to keep them dry. If this were the only reason they could have used stone blocks and laid the timber beams for the buildings framework directly on top.
Known for their ability to gnaw through just about anything and squeeze into small gaps, rats, and mice too, can’t walk upside down. This is where the stone cappings come into their own because the overhang they created when on top of the stone plinths made it impossible for vermin to climb over them. The shape of the caps varies regionally from square, round and fluted to the flat-topped cones we have on the Isle of Wight. A good example of this is the central feature of our lavender bed in the middle of the farm courtyard.
The staddle stones raised the buildings off the ground, which meant a big step up to access them. Building permanent steps gave hungry rodents an easy way of getting to the contents so temporary timber steps were used during the day and removed at night or when not in use. Sometimes stone or brick steps were built with the top step missing, making it too high for them to jump. For added protection these steps sometimes had dog kennels built under them.
Staddle stones are still used today as garden ornaments and original buildings exist with them in place. The word staddle stone is also used in house, farm, and road names.
Some Housekeeping Pointers
Please bear in mind that The Lavender Farm not only grows crops but is a working sheep farm. Our sheep’s well-being is very important to us.
Because of this we only allow assistance dogs to the farm. Dogs have the potential to spread worms which, if taken up by the sheep, can kill them. There is also the risk of causing distress to the sheep. Even we do have sheep dogs as we do as we ask rather than cause any arguments.
Farm Plant and Gates
Also, be aware of passing farm machinery and take into account private areas and gates, which are often closed for your safety.
Please don't ignore them!
Gareth and Didi are the co-founders of “1 More Tree” an organisation that has been given operational room at the Lavender farm, their objective is to increase and assist in the planting of as many trees as possible. Specialising in some of the rarer trees that need help, they will be developing various tree planting campaigns and exercises both locally and worldwide over the coming years.
Why not ask Gareth when you are at the farm if there is anything you can do, you may well leave with a pot an acorn and a mission!
Planting Habitat Agreement - Staplehurst
On the 27th of August “1 More Tree” signed the first of 3 agreements to plant trees at Staplehurst grange the home of the lavender farm, near Newport.
This first eco planting project will see over 2000 native trees being planted in the lakes area of the farm, planting and management of the project will be handled by new company 1 more tree. Agreements are being drawn up for 1 more tree to sign a further 2 planting agreements as well as an adoption and maintenance agreement for the farms ancient woodlands.
I more tree was set up this year with the single aim to plant as many trees as possible, in order to address the huge problem of deforestation, globally as well as locally on the island.
East of Newport, Isle of Wight
Site Plan Drawins as marked in blue.
- Planned planting area consists of 1.169 Hectares.
- Trees native broadleaf varieties 2.922 trees
- Post and guards on all trees
Bare Root Roses
When you first receive your rose delivery, unwrap them, and inspect for any damage. Then carefully place the root or roots in a cool place to stop growth but with some moisture such as a damp cloth, so that they don’t dry out
As long as there is good wrapping or packing around the roots you can keep them for some time, such as in an empty freezer which is switched off. Keep the top open a tad of the freezer and make sure they are kept moist.
However, if you need to store them for more than say twelve days then I suggest you take them outside and heel them in.
Using this method you can store the bare root for some time, firstly create a trench around twelve inches deep in reasonable soil not too boggy, then lay the roots on their side at a 45 degree angle, cover the root ball with soil and heel them in with your boot, leaving the head of the root exposed.
Be sure to check the trench regularly for moisture and when needed gently ease out each rose for replanting in final destination.
Obviously they should be moved prior to the generation of new root growth as this is easily damaged so a good planting plan should be adopted in order to make certain the roses are given the best chance to thrive.
The Ghostly Monk
The Blacklands - The name alone conjures up thoughts of foul deeds afoot! Prior to Quarr Abbey holding the lands of Arreton Manor, which in turn owned Staplehurst Grange, many issues beheld the area, and in the 13th Century the Abbott of Quarr complained actively that “certain persons had carried away goods”. This led to a ditch being built as a defence between the lands of Briddlesford under control of the Abbey and that of Staplehurst. Piracy and theft were common throughout the island and the Abbey did its best to protect its property.
Then in the 16th century the Grange was purchased by Quarr Abbey as a parcel of the larger Arreton Manor. The expansion of Quarr by buying up these minor manors was a very important part of the Abbey’s development, and the lands were worked daily by both surfs and monks.
The Ghost Workers of Quarr
The Lavender Farm ghosts are said to originate from this time, and are active at dusk when shadowy features can clearly be seen. Looking at the image below there appears to be one of these shadowy forms, a monk slumped next to the steps.
Today this is the office, but in ancient times it was the grain store and built as one unit. Apparently they used to load sacks of grain from the mill cart using a grain hook suspended from a rope and pulley affair. It is said that one day a monk from the Abbey who was doubting his faith while loading the heavy sacks of grain let the hook slip off a sack under tension, which then swung wildly and killed him instantly.
Legend has it that sometimes at dusk you can hear the muffled sound of the old monk doubting his spiritual beliefs, and his ghostly form can be seen collapsed next to the step. Or so the story goes.
Reuben and Jill Abbott, who run the Lavender Farm, are very conscious of how lucky they are to live in such an idyllic place and love sharing it with others. They are more than happy for visitors to bring a book, sit and relax around the courtyard or gardens to enjoy the peaceful and picturesque surroundings, but appreciate that some would rather be more active and perhaps stay for longer.
In view of this they have set up a group for people who would like to spend more time here, helping out in the garden. They have called this group ‘The Lavender Farm Mob’ after the super comedy of the 1950's "The Lavender Hill Mob"
As any gardener knows, even a gentle potter in the garden provides you with not only the feeling of a job well-done (regardless of how much you really have done!) but also gives you exercise, helps concentrate the mind and leaves you feeling more positive. There is also a great feeling of purpose when pruning and planting and then accomplishment when plants mature and flower, and then again when they need tending to help them give their best. Being part of their cycle, and gardening generally, is proven as a positive thing we can all do for ourselves; even some GP’s are prescribing it!
Being a squad member also helps those who don’t currently have access to a garden to enjoy these advantages. It is a great opportunity to get out of the house and meet new people with a similar interest, develop new skills and improve existing ones. Or maybe you are hoping to get back into employment after a break and need to dust off your social skills and boost your confidence and freshen-up your CV.
The Lavender Farm is, of course, a working farm and commercial venture and although we are unable to pay our mob members you will be very well looked after.
No gardener would expect to plant, prune, weed, and deadhead without a supply of rich, home-made cake washed down with a quality tea or coffee, and for those who want to make a day of it we’ll provide lunch too, all in our warm, welcoming tearoom.
We have a shop on-site, so if gorgeous smelling essential and massage oils, Pot Pourri, or scented candles are your thing we’ll give you a mob member’s discount there as well. On the practical side, we have plenty of space for free parking and modern, spotless washing facilities including disabled loos.
We’ll also provide gloves, kneelers, wellies, and if needed help with the bus fare.
If you’d like to know more then give us a call for a chat. There’s no commitment to how much time you spend or how much you have to do as we’d like you to feel unpressured, work at your own pace and enjoy your time here.
T: 01983 530097
Reuben’s Rose Quest
Reuben has always been a keen lover of roses as well as lavender. One of his new horticultural quests is that of the Isle of Wight Rose, and he is already three years into the development cycle of around ten years to cultivate a really special new and very “smelly” rose.
The real driving element here is Jill, Reuben's wife and business partner, who has the misfortune to suffer from a poor sense of smell. When Jill can smell the fragrance Rueben knows he has created a really “smelly” rose.
What actually goes into breeding the Isle of Wight Rose?
In a word, patience. The process can take up to ten years and so it’s an ambitious long-term goal for anyone to embark on. To start, you need to decide how many crosses to make. The definition of a cross is where two rose cultivars are brought together to create a new one, with attributes of both parents being found in the new creation.
Crossing is carried out in the same general way as Mother Nature does it, collecting pollen from the pollen parent and transferring to the seed parent. Every time this is done it is called a cross. Rather than rely on insects, birds or the wind, Rueben has to carry out this process by hand, carefully transferring the really fine pollen from parent to parent, and then accurately recording exactly what he has done. It’s vitally important to Reuben to understand the history of each cross so characteristics of petal count, fragrance, and disease resistance can be bred in or out.
A few months later, in the autumn, the seed parent’s blooms produce hips. These are berry-like in shape and bright orange to red in colour. Once ripened they can be slit open and the rose seeds carefully extracted and, again, notes taken of their details.
These seeds are then refrigerated until February, when they are sown in seed trays to await the germination process; details of each batch are marked and recorded. Eventually the new rose seedlings will develop, and as this occurs the strongest seedlings will be chosen to mature into full blown plants.
Reuben is looking for Grade One plants (Bare root roses are classified as grade 1, 1 1/2 and 2. Grade 1 roses have at least 3 large canes (branches) and the lesser grades have fewer and/or smaller canes.) At all times the possible grade ones are the final choices that will hopefully become commercially viable.
The above process can take years of crossing and analysing and re-crossing, not forgetting that the actual growth periods are seasonal so you only really see one good cross and development annually. Once Rueben has what he considers to be The Rose it has to be trialled by other rose growers to verify its viability as a commercial rose. Only after this rigorous testing will the rose go into production to be sold to the general public.
On completion Rueben can announce The Rose and give it a name connected with the Isle of Wight. However, this will only happen if it passes the final test; if Jill can smell the fragrance from a distance.
Only then will he know it’s a really smelly rose!
Lavender is one of the most widely-grown shrubs ever. Originally a Mediterranean plant, it is instantly recognisable by its distinctive green or silvery-grey foliage, blue flowers (although there are some white flowered varieties) and aromatic scent. It’s also been grown for thousands of years for its other properties, too. These properties vary from insect repellant to herbal drinks and culinary flavouring to fragrances and decoration.
A member of the mint family, there are some 47 varieties. There are records of its use as long ago as the ancient Persians and Egyptians, who used it as both a perfume and to soak embalming shrouds for its scent to mask decomposition and antibacterial properties for preservation.
The Romans found many more applications for lavender and made its use widespread throughout the known world. They scattered lavender sprigs to both scent and disinfect public and domestic bath water, and the oil was used for cleaning skin. Its antibacterial properties were also appreciated, whether by army surgeons on the battlefield to clean wounds, or for cuts and scrapes at home. The rooms of sick people were also aerated with it to help clean and scent the air.
The clean, fresh scents of lavender, combined with its cleansing properties, have continued to be appreciated. Queen Victoria was a devotee, and during WW1 it was used as an antiseptic cleaner for washing floors and walls. In fact, its name is thought to be partially derived from the Latin lavare (to wash) due to its use by the Romans as an additive to water for washing both themselves and their clothes in.
Today it is as popular as ever. Most of its therapeutic uses derive from lavender oil, which is produced by steam distillation from commercially grown plants often from the south of France and the world’s largest producer, Bulgaria. The oil is then used by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries for the production of perfumes, ointments, creams.
Closer to home, the oil is a staple essential oil for aromatherapy. It can be mixed with a carrier to produce a massage oil which is known for its soothing and relaxing qualities and relieving the tension in sore and bruised muscles. When placed in a diffuser its antiseptic qualities are effective for relieving the symptoms of coughs, colds and other respiratory infections.
Therapeutically, lavender is probably best-know for treating the skin.
As the Romans discovered, in diluted form its antibacterial and antiseptic qualities make it effective for washing minor cuts. These same qualities make it good at managing spots such as acne which are caused by skin oils and bacteria.
Try it also as an insect repellent, and if the really keen ones decide to ignore it, try on insect bites and stings as it will provide quick relief for the stinging itchiness. This ability to relive itchiness, combined with its moisturising and anti-inflammatory properties, will provide relief to dry, chapped skin such as that caused by winter winds, and complaints like eczema and other uncomfortable rashes. Diluted with water and sprayed onto sunburn it will help take away the heat and also help to heal the skin quickly. Lavender’s soothing effect comes not only from its fresh, clean, floral aroma.
The essential oil is worth rubbing into the temples or the back of the neck for relief from tension headaches. You could also try inhaling or placing a drop at the base of the nostrils to help provide calm for anxious occasions; perhaps that wedding speech or a job interview, or to unwind after a long day. Another way of unwinding with lavender is to mix a few drops in with your bathwater to provide a relaxant for your muscles and to create a calming atmosphere in the bathroom. Lavender tea is also recommended for its calming qualities, and can be made easily by adding boiling water to lavender flowers picked from your garden.
Lavender oil is generally considered as safe to use but it is not recommended for use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also, only therapeutic quality oil is for use on the skin and it should be diluted or blended with base oils and creams in the correct proportions. Check the label as fragrance-only oils are labelled as not suitable for use internally or on the skin.
No water no rose; all you end up with is a dry stick! As with all things living the humble rose needs water to survive...
Here are some common ground rules:
- When first planting, roses need more water, and regularly, especially in hot conditions
- Examine the soil; if its sandy and loamy then water more often than if it’s a mainly clay base.
- Even if it rains note that it’s best to water often to ensure they don’t dry out
- Cover the entire root area well when watering; a slight sprinkle is just not effective
- Check the soil and dig down a little, say 3 inches, to see if the soil is moist. If not, water more
- To help avoid disease water the soil, not the leaves except see below
- In very hot and sunny conditions watering early in the morning from overhead is beneficial for the entire plant. Only do this if your rose is free of black spot and make certain it’s early enough so the plant has time to dry completely during the day.
Rose Black Spot
Theoretically, you can’t overwater a rose. Of course, if you have no sun and steady rain for ten days, your roses won’t be thrilled, but if drainage is good, the extra water usually won’t hurt them, either
Having said that, err on the side of caution. For example, don’t water if you have had rain for several days in a row, but again, if the drainage is very good then feel free to water well, often it is recommended to use some mulch around the newly laid root. It looks good, retains water and keeps the weeds at bay.
Create a watering schedule and stick to it. Watering once every five or six days is adequate in most conditions, but obviously if very dry change that to every two or three days.
Be sure to examine the plant and the soil regularly; check three inches down to examine the moisture content, and if bone dry water immediately
Watch the foliage. If it’s dropping, this is not good as the plant is already suffering and watering may revive, but make sure it’s done quickly .
Depth is also a consideration. You must water so that the entire root zone will receive coverage which in reality could mean to a depth of eighteen inches. Getting to this depth will depend on the soil type but that’s what will need to be achieved.
The soil probe is a hollow tube approximately three foot long and an inch wide. It allows you to take a soil sample for examination to the depth of at least eighteen inches.
Another tool for your armoury is the rain gauge. This tells you how much rain has fallen in a particular area, allowing you to accurately assess the amount of watering required.
There are several methods to effectively water your roses. Remember the objective here is to water the roots at a continuous and steady pace
Where to Plant Your Rose
When you buy a rose plant it looks nothing like the beautiful bush you imagine blooming in your garden. Plants for sale often have short, leafless canes and many come bare root. Seeing a plant like this can leave anyone wondering if it is even alive, let alone where or how to plant it. You are not alone in this. Here are some tips for how to plant and then care for your rose…
Roses are not nearly as fragile as they might appear and you could probably just plop it in a hole and have success. However, a little extra effort when planting will pay off in healthier plants and more blooms.
The choice of a sunny aspect is critical to obtain a good, healthy, standard variety rose. If you can, pick a spot that catches around six hours plus of sun per day, although some varieties are happy with partially shaded areas as well. These are mainly varieties that thrive in hotter climates where water is scarce, making shade a relief to the plant.
Most roses are not that fussy with regard to soil, but as heavy feeders a rich loam soil would be best. A slightly acidic to neutral pH value is normally advised (5.5 to 7.0), and it’s good to mix in several inches of organic matter. This has the added advantage of breaking up heavy clay soil, so when good watering at depth is achieved it enables effective drainage. This is critical as the roots will rot where water can’t drain away.
It’s important to remember that you should not crowd rose bushes 2ft to 3ft apart is fine. A good flow of free air between and around your plants will help reduce the risk of fungal diseases such as black spot or powdery mildew as they will have a far harder time transferring from one plant to another.
For details on watering see here
Most bees in this country are domesticated and live in hives. They are known for their ability to produce honey which can be collected and eaten, and the production of wax comb which has a variety of uses from candles, to polish, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
On the farm we have our own bee hives making sure that the pollination process is well supported within the valley.