Blog Header

Blog Header

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

A visit to a lavender farm - and more butterflies!

I have always wanted to see lavender fields in bloom but wasn't expecting to find them in the Ardeche, so was overjoyed to find they grow lavender here down on the flat land of the Rhone river valley. The Maison de la Lavande situated at St Remèze is open to the public but you have to go on a guided tour. It starts with a trip around the fields in a little train, then you go into a museum like room full of old stills where a guy gives a talk about the different kinds of lavender and then we went into a semi open room where a lady showed us how the still works and how the lavender oil is produced. We then wandered around a little garden full of different kinds of lavender (all labelled up) where she discussed taking cuttings and growing lavender.

After that there is a small snack bar which also has artisanale ice cream with many flavours - I must say that was the best ice cream I had all holiday! It was yet another hot day so the ice cream was most appreciated.

We arrived too late to get on the train so actually did the museum bit first and then took the next train. This guy did go on and on - K understood him, I understood about half but I find it hard to follow French for very long anyway, and my poor brother understood nothing so must have been very bored! The museum exhibits were in English as well but we were rushed through into the next room, so didn't get a chance to look around the whole room.

I did learn about the different kinds of lavender though. There are three kinds, true Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), which makes the best quality oil, but produces less per sq. hectare, wild Lavender (Lavandula latifolia), which has a lower quality oil which smells more of camphor, and Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia), which is a cross between the two. This produces a fairly good quality oil and produces more per sq. hectare, so this is what is produced at this farm and many others. I now understand what Lavender x intermedia means, or Lavender Grosso or Dutch, they are the cross between Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia; Grosso and Dutch being x intermedia cultivars. I didn't know any of this because buying lavender here is always hit and miss as they are never labelled up very well - I have bought Grosso before and also a Hidcote, which is an angustifolia. From now on I will buy lavender online from a specialist where I can be sure of what I am getting, especially as some can be rather small and some are huge! I quite fancy a pink one and a white one to make a change from the bluey/mauve ones but you very rarely see them for sale at garden centres.

Some of the museum exhibits - this was a travelling still. Sometimes in the past a travelling still would come around the farms to make the lavender oil.

On into the next room where a demonstration of how the still works was carried out...

... by this lady.

To give us a break from the droning on 😀, we watched this swallow nest. The youngster wasn't necessarily opening its mouth for food, as mum (or dad) was too, I think because of the heat.

Mummy swallow taking a break in the shade.

Photo credit: Keith Allen

We then went into this courtyard where we were told a bit about growing lavender and how to take cuttings. She demonstrated pulling quite a large section of hardwood off the plant as the cutting - now we have always taken the softwood and done it like that - but I will try this way in future. You get a bigger plant to start with this way.

All these plants were labelled up with interesting info about history of the cultivar, size and growing conditions etc.

Part of the courtyard - this was once a sheep farm.

I met my friend the Blue Spot Hairstreak (Satyrium spini) here again - in fact when we went through the fields on the little train, there were dozens of these butterflies about!

This is a Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra) - closely related to the Brimstone. You can see the brighter colouring showing through on the top wing which differentiates it from the latter. This one is a male. Note something else flying in the background!

I had to show you this one as I'm surprised it's not too blurry - it clearly shows the wing colouring. I love how they hold their legs in flight! 😀

I was really pleased to see this female Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon) as the last one I saw was about four years ago on my lavender in Brittany.

Possibly saving the best until last - this is a Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) - not so scarce down here I am pleased to say!

There were a few of these moths as well - i have no idea what it is but it's very pretty!

I took some photos from the train as we were going around but they were all a bit blurry - a shame that we could not walk around here on our own as there were dozens of the Blue Spot Hairstreaks and lots of Cleopatras as well, and who knows what else. Having seen their incredibly stony soil, apart from vines or olive groves, I can't imagine the soil being very good for other crops. A bit hard to plough! 

The train did stop for a little while to allow us to take photos, hence this one. There was a lot of wild grass growing in amongst the lavender - I don't know what it is but it was actually a very pretty grass.

I love this - their advert for the farm on an old French Citroën truck.

Photo Credit: Keith Allen

I loved our visit and was so pleased to have coincided with lavender flowering season! I still want to go back to Provence at lavender time though. 😀


  1. Wowie WOW! What a treat to see. I laughed regarding the droning on and on by the tour guide 😄. Been in that situation a few times. I was always thankful for the places that had headphones speaking English and letting you to take a self tour.

    Your Butterflies were spectacular especially against the purple. It's been so long since I've see a good variety if species. All in all, a spectacular outing! Thanks as always for sharing with us 😊 ♥️ ...

    Marianne in Arizona

    1. Thanks very much Marianne! I loathe guided tours, but it was worth it here. I have never tried the headphone tour, I prefer having the leaflet which explains where you are and what that bit of garden/building it is. Even in English I lose concentration and interest very quickly from a guided tour!

      Here's hoping for lots of butterflies for you soon.

  2. Great blog Mandy, and amazing pictures too.

    1. Thanks Trisha, good you let me know this was you on facebook! xx

  3. Great post Mandy and SO interesting. It is just beautiful there and you certainly taught me a lot about lavender. We visited a lavender farm once on the Isle of Wight (closed when we last went drought I think!) It was lovely there. Great plants to have in the garden and pollinators love them. Also good to dry a few flowers :) Love the butterflies too.

    1. Thanks very much Caroline and I'm glad I could teach you something for a change! Not long ago I bought some lavender oil as my old lavender bags had lost their scent, but I wasn't very impressed by the smell. Now looking at the bottle, it is Lavandin, not true Lavender which would have been better (though I think is more expensive). The lavandin scent gets better after a few weeks though. We also learned about lavender being very good for all sorts of things from helping to heal and to reduce pain and stress, to repelling insects. Yes I love having them in the garden too, they are always covered in pollinators!

  4. Great write-up as usual Mandy ,must try and find some of the other colour ones for the garden.👍🙂❤️ Trev.

    1. Thank you Trev. Try online for other colour ones - I have been looking on a site called Les Senteurs de Quercy which specialises in them. xx

  5. I tried pink and white, but the unusual colours are more fragile plants - and I lost them quite soon. Sticking to my commonorgarden volunteer lavender now.

    1. Hi Diana, thanks for that info. I think I'll still try though! I like the other kind of lavender, the papillon kind, but here it grows wild where the soil is acid, so I'm not sure it is worth bothering about in my chalky soil. I did have some lavender self seed into gravel in the Brittany garden, which really pleased me!