The term lavender is a collective name used to refer to about 47 species of flowering plants in the Lamiaceae or mint family. The generic name of these species is Lavandula, and the plant is extensively cultivated in temperate regions of the world as a culinary herb, ornamental plant, and commercially for its essential oils. The region of Provence in France is famous for its spectacular lavender fields, and thousands of tourists visit the cultivation areas annually to see the breathtaking blooms. During this period which is commonly known as the lavender season, the majestic lavender fields are covered in purple blossoms, and the air is filled with the exotic scent of the plant.
Species and Habitat
The three species of lavender that grow wild in Provence include Lavandula spica, Lavandula vera, and Lavandula steochas. However, the lavender cultivated in most gardens in Provence is a hybrid species known as Lavandin. The main cultivation areas include the Luberon region, the regions of Valréas and Sault, around the Mont-Ventoux, and in the communes of Gordes, Simiane-la-Rotonde, and Apt. Besides lavender, the region of Provence also features extensive sunflower fields, orchards, aromatic shrubs like thyme, rosemary, and sage, vineyards, olive groves, and evergreen trees such as holm oaks.
Threats to the Lavender Fields
One of the primary challenges facing lavender growers in Provence is the changing climate. For the lavender cultivators and growers of other crops such as olives and wine grapes, timing is everything and the seasonal changes in temperature we experience today are a threat to these crops. Other challenges include pests, diseases, and insufficient rainfall during the growing period due to changing weather patterns. To curb these challenges, the growers are fighting back through irrigation, planting newer hybrid crops, and using other plants to mask their lavender fields to fool meddlesome pests like cicadas.
What Is Unique About the Lavender Fields of Provence?
Lavender farming in Provence is an art. Cultivation of the plant in the region began many years ago, and the culture, together with cultivation techniques have been passed down through generations. Most of the present day artisan lavender growers still run family-owned farms. During the lavender season, the purple blooms of the plant form the background of the large farms with small roads weaving in and out of the fields. Besides touring the fields, tourists can also visit the unique old-fashioned lavender distilleries to see the extraction of essential lavender oils and attend festivals dedicated to this plant.
Tourism to the Region
The lavender in the fields of Provence begins to bloom in summer, between mid and end of June. The prime blossoming, however, starts in mid-July and this is when tourists arrive in the fields in droves. Lavender harvesting takes place from the end of July to mid-August. There are hundreds of hotels and vacation rentals offering accommodation for tourists in Provence, but the Luberon region is the most preferable for visitors whose focus is seeing the lavender. Visitors can walk or take bike rides around the fields, take private tours to the distilleries, attend lavender festivals in Sault and Valérias, and visit lavender monuments such as the Lavender Museum and Notre Dame de Sénanque where a community of Cistercian Monks cultivate the plant.