Fun for all the family at Norfolk Lavender
- By Elaine Bird
- 09 January 2020
A family-run, local business since the 1930s, Norfolk Lavender has proven an essential pin on Norfolk’s map. With its centre located on the A149 as you enter Hunstanton from Heacham, the Norfolk Lavender empire as it stands today now incorporates 100 acres of lavender fields, a farm shop, animal garden, tearooms, a children’s play centre and a jewellery, furniture and gift shop. These expansions have been rolled out over a period of almost 90 years... and it all originated from a small miller’s cottage in Heacham.
Founder Linnaeus Chilvers originally ran a nursery garden and florists’ business in Heacham and dreamed of growing lavender on a large scale. In 1932 he went into partnership with Francis Dusgate of Fring Hall who provided Linn with 6 acres of land and 13,000 plants for a total cost of £15.
Linn’s lavenders proved of exceptional quality and in 1936 two stills from 1874 were purchased and were used to distil lavender all the way up to 2009. In homage, the gates surrounding the site are still emblazoned with ‘Chilver’s Nurseries’.
Senior tour guide Lynn Shannon says: “It was all really down to Francis Dusgate having the wealth to do it, because he had great faith in Linnaeus Chilvers and that was when he started propagating plants and getting these fabulous varieties that we still grow.”
Linn died childless in 1953 and he left the business to Henry Head’s father who then passed it on to his son who owned it up until 2009 when current owners Shelley Eagle and her partner took over. Shelley was well primed for this venture: she studied horticulture at Birmingham and, as a farmer’s daughter, feels right at home amongst the animal gardens and fields of lavender.
One of the first things they did was retire the nineteenth century stills and install a quicker and modern distiller which works around the clock. Distilled oil is then kept for 2 years to mature and then used in a number of products sold on site.
Lavender employee Alice King with a few of the items available to purchase from the gift shop
Norfolk Lavender hold the national collection of lavenders and currently house over 150 varieties of the flower, adding about ten different varieties from around the world each year, including a very special variety originating from Japan. Some of the lavenders that originate onsite include Heacham Blue, Miss Catherine and Imperial Gem.
Not only is lavender one of more aesthetically pleasing plants, it also boasts numerous medicinal purposes: it has been known to relieve tension, tiredness and depression and helps with aches and pains, skin problems, bites, stings and burns. The gift shop caters to these ailments by offering a headache and stress serum and pillow sprays. All of the Norfolk Lavender products contain pure lavender oil or lavender flowers from their very own fields.
Animal Gardens is another experience any animal-lover cannot miss: the gardens hold a number of much-loved and unusual species including a raccoon dog, owls, peacocks a newly arrived meerkat family. There is also the opportunity for a cuddle with rabbits and wallabies (and not-so-cuddly tarantulas and reptiles!). Plus, they have recently introduced the opportunity to sponsor the animals and they do party packages.
Charlotte Fenton poses with Benji the wallaby
Norfolk Lavender have also recently taken over from the previously independent farm shop located onsite; selling a variety of fresh produce and locally sourced products, ranging from a selection of Norfolk gins to sauces and preserves. They also have a bakery and fresh meat counter.
So, where to go from here? Firstly, they will soon be distilling rosemary: considered sacred by ancient Greeks, the essential oil is best known for its stimulating and pain-relieving qualities, with recent studies on dementia suggesting rosemary enhances the ability to remember events.
Shelley also reveals that her dream is to get the water wheel functioning once again and that they are looking to build four new gardens to showcase all the different uses of lavender: there will be a coastal garden, a sensory garden, a romantic garden and a cottage garden. Shelley says this is all to “build on the tremendous heritage of the company.”
These gardens will be located close to the entrance, which Lynn explains is to benefit those with mobility issues. She says: “We do get quite a large elderly contingency coming in, so lots of seating by the entrance will be built so they will be able to feel that they are having the full lavender experience without feeling exhausted.”
There is an array of fresh fruit and veg, meat and cheese along with an assortment of cupboard essentials at the Lavender Farm Shop
Norfolk Lavender has something to offer for the whole family: young children are bound to love the Farmer Fred’s Adventure Play Barn and slightly older children would be enamoured by the vast variety of animals to interact with at the Animal Gardens. Adults can enjoy tours to the lavender fields during the summer, or they can treat themselves or find a gift suited to anyone in the gift shop. For refreshments, the tearooms are always a hit for a filling and tasty bite to eat and drink; you could even treat yourself to one of their famous afternoon teas!
Norfolk Lavender’s opening hours are Monday to Sunday 9am to 5pm in the summer and to 4:30pm from November to February. The main site is free to visit including the National Collection of Lavenders, the Herb Garden and all of the shops. The Animal Gardens and outdoor play area have a charge £5.50 per adult, £4.50 for children and concessions. A family ticket (two adults and 2 children) is £18.00. There is a season ticket where you can visit the animals as often as you want for £45.00.