I started writing a short story a month or so ago. It was just supposed to be an exercise in creative writing – I ask someone for three nouns and I put them into a story quickly and instinctively, without thinking too much or judging what I write.
Now, I don't recall ever seeing a film or gazing at a picture with a lavender field, and I'm sure I haven't read about them. I did see a photoshoot set in a lavender field, which I remember for the bohemian, 70s styling and the table flowers (which didn’t include lavender). But for some reason, as I started writing this story, the thought of a lavender field entered my mind, even though it wasn’t related to the three nouns I was given.
I visited Mayfield Lavender after I’d started this story. It’s a 25-acre lavender farm in Banstead in South East London/Surrey. I got the 166 bus from West Croydon, which is one of those lovely, quiet bus rides where you could happily fall asleep or look out of the window. What amazed me was the smell of the lavender – it hits you inside the bus, and that’s how you know you’ve reached your stop. The bus stops right outside – there’s a little wire-fenced path by the bus stop, so just follow it round to the main entrance. And if you’re getting the bus from Banstead town centre, the stop is just opposite.
I could see the field from the other side of the fence, but walking in through the entrance and into the field was just incredible. There was a group of young men and women on my bus who ran straight down the paths of the field and jumped and took photos straight away – that’s the sort of joy it evokes.
I walked along one path, jumped over to the next, sat down and looked at the blue and purple flowers above me and listened to their swishy rustle. I didn’t think about much, which is strange for me as I usually drive myself mad thinking about everything under the sun. So it’s not a cliché – being in a field of lavender is genuinely relaxing! The only thing that stuck in my mind was – this is just how I imagined the field in my story.
I had a cup of lavender and Earl Grey tea and a lavender fairy cake in the cute café and shop, where I had a perfect view of the field and the lavender-coloured bicycle. Then I went for another walk in the field and sat on one of the picnic benches under a tree, watching the people hard at work weeding the field row by row.
When I finally dragged myself away, I got the bus to Banstead town centre and walked the 15-minute walk to the train station. I still had the scent of lavender in my nose, another thing I imagined in my story, but I suspect it was from sitting in the field or from the perfume samples I was given in the shop! The effect of the field remained with me, and I found myself taking photos as I walked along, when beautiful-looking things caught my eye. By the way, I didn’t have a camera with me, so all of these were taken on my phone. In my Zone 4 arrogance, I assumed the trains from Banstead would be at least every half hour. But no; they were every hour and I’d just missed one. It was ok though – it was sunny and warm, and I worked on my screenplay while I waited on the pretty station platform. The station is unstaffed, incidentally, but there are ticket machines.
Lavender is a herb that reminds me of front gardens on hot days, where the scent fills the air and bees buzz around the plant. The herb is becoming more prevalent because of the rising popularity of lavender in baking and cooking. For me, it first became a flavour as well as a fragrance when I made Nigella Lawson’s Lavender Trust cupcakes from her book Forever Summer. (The Lavender Trust at Breast Cancer Care supports younger women with breast cancer).
This weekend, there will be a festival at Mayfield Lavender, so if you live nearby, what better way to spend the first hot weekend in weeks? You can buy ready-made cakes and biscuits with lavender, or you can buy flowers to make your own. There will be activities for children and adults, food and drink, and the calming blue sight of 25 acres of lavender.