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First International Lavender Conference 6-11 Sept 2009

This was a very interesting event for professional and amateur growers alike, organised by Tim Upson and Susyn Andrews, authors of the most recent Monograph on the genus Lavandula. Taking place in historic Cambridge and split between Clare College and the beautiful University Botanic Garden during the Darwin celebrations, the conference offered topics including history, naming, lavender cultivation, breeding, pests and diseases and commercial nursery production as well as lavender production for oil.

clare college lavender conferenceClare College, Cambridge

On arrival on the Sunday, we were treated to a tour of the Botanic Garden by a very knowledgeable guide who explained that the creator, John Stevens Henslow was actually Darwin’s mentor during his time at Cambridge. The gardens were beautiful with different areas including the scented garden and dry garden.

dry garden lavender conferenceThe Dry Garden, Cambridge University Botanic Garden

On the Monday, there were a series of lectures on subjects including the taxonomy, the history of lavender, the importance of national plant collections, and the geographical distribution of lavender plants in the wild. We were then treated to another visit to the Botanic Garden for a lavender identification workshop, where we were able to view various tender species including Canary Island lavenders which Tim Upson, curator of the gardens had bedded out especially for the conference.

Tim Upson showing us a range of tender lavenders

Tuesday was an overview of modern breeding methods, as well as a discussion of pests and diseases which may target lavender, such as the rosemary beetle, which is currently spreading across Britain.

Rosemary beetle on lavender plant

On Wednesday there were various descriptions of trials in the use of lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia) as a medicine. For example, Jacqui Stringer (Christie Hospital NHS Trust) showed us before and after photos of ulcers treated with lavender oil; Heather Cavanagh (Charles Sturt University, Australia) showed us literature surveys as well as lab studies showing that lavender oil is a broad-spectrum antibiotic, is antiparasitic and antifungal, but not necessarily antiviral. Belinda Bradley (School of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire) discussed her trials using lavender to treat anxiety. Jane Collins (Phytobotanica) discussed the difficulties of growing lavender plants for oil in the UK.

The Thursday was a trip to Norfolk Lavender, with Henry Head leading workshops on the production and marketing of lavender oil and the toiletries made from it, and lavender tourism.

The entrance to Norfolk Lavender

On Friday, we visited Downderry Nursery, where Simon and Dawn Charlesworth showed us their multi-RHS Gold-winning lavender plant nursery, and we discussed plant propagation and mail order.

Simon Charlesworth showing us his Chelsea lavender plants

To summarise, this was a very useful conference, with something of use to anyone with an interest in this beautiful and productive genus.

We noted that UK growers were focussed on using their harvest for lavender oil and toiletries (see also FAQ no.5), rather than to sell dried despite the growing market. I put this down to two things. Firstly the UK climate means that the drying process requires drying beds which cost money. Secondly higher prices can be obtained by processing the lavender into oil and toiletries.

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For more information and detailed articles, visit www.botanic.cam.ac.uk

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