An hour's drive from Melbourne into the Yarra Valley at the foothills of Mount Dandenong brought us to Warrantina Lavender Farm.
Warrantina Lavender Farm is located in the small township of Wandin Yallock, named after the local Aboriginal tribe 'Wandin' and 'Yallock' meaning permanent running water. The area is home to a number of fruit orchards in addition to a primary school, church and war memorial.
What started as a hobby with a small plot of lavender on a former cherry orchard in 1991 is today a working lavender farm with over 10,000 plants grown for cooking, craft and household purposes. All lavender grown on the farm is sold to retail and wholesale customers and used in its house-label products.
The homestead offers light meals to visitors in its Tea Room. It was large enough to comfortably accommodate family and tour groups of 30 people. There was also outdoor seating for 20 people surrounded by lavender.
The star attraction for us were the lavender scones, lavender ice cream and black lavender tea prepared on premise. The lavender scones were served with homemade raspberry jam were lightly flavoured but the black lavender tea delivered a rich lavender aroma.
The Gift Shop adjoining the Tea Room displayed a wide range of Warratina's lavender products from the usual massage oil to quirky mustard with lavender. The owners are generous with samples and the staff are very helpful with explanations.
We were met by the friendly staff who gave us an educational tour of the farm. It was interesting to learn that the lavender grown on the farm is still harvested in bunches by hand using a sickle.
The harvest bunches are hung and air-dried like legs of prosciutto ham in a Drying Shed. It was thick with the scent of lavender. The adequately dried lavender were stripped using a machine and then sifted to remove the unwanted sticks, leaves and dust. The final result was fragrant lavender seeds.
The staff also shared with us about the lavender plant and its cultivation. Lavender is fairly easy to manage as it's drought tolerant and doesn't require much water. It grows best in well drained soil. It doesn't consume much fertilizer requiring only a small amount once a year usually at the end of winter, with some lime every 2 years. Lavender for craft and cooking are different.
The angustifolia lavenders with a darker flower and sweeter fragrance are the only ones which can be used in cooking. The intermedia lavender is used for craft and household purposes because of its high camphoraceous content. The owners also share their insights and experiences with local garden clubs, school groups and tourists.
For readers who have been to the Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm in Nabowla, north-east Tasmania, you may be disappointed. Warratina's fields of lavender cannot compare to one of the world's largest lavender farms but it is friendlier, more personable and less crowded as a smaller property. You can tour the drying sheds and watch how lavender is processed. Enjoy an ice cream while strolling through the fields, home made scones with raspberry jam in the tea room or even take a bunch of lavender home.
I learned the best time to visit Warratina Lavender Farm was from early November as the lavender plants are in full bloom between early to late summer. On 24 and 25 November, the Farm organised a pre-harvest celebration with entertainment, food, lavendar displays, garden walks and craft demonstrations before the harvest began in January. If you want to be surrounded by the fragrance of lavender while enjoying a lavender ice cream or Devonshire tea, then make a date with Warratina Lavender Farm from 1 to 31 January when it's lavender harvest time.
Warratina Lavender Farm is perfectly situated for a day or weekend escape from the city to take in the views of the countryside, stroll through the fields and breathe the fragrance of lavender in Spring and Summer.
Warratina Lavender Farm is open Wednesday to Sunday inclusive from 10am - 5pm except Christmas Day and Good Friday.
They are closed on Monday and Tuesday. Group bookings are available on any day by appointment.