Lavender fields in Enzed* ??    (*the popular way of pronouncing the countrys name).  Were there such things? Recently, sorting through photos of us in NZ, I was taken aback. There were lavender fields in one or of the shots I'd taken while travelling around in the countryside. At first, I'd thought the photos were in the wrong directory on the computer.  Lavender fields were in France; weren't they?  We knew as we've visited them on more than one occasion and marvelled at the purplecloaked hills of Provence.

In Provence, the lavender plants bloom from June to August in the Luberon, around the Mont Ventoux in the region of Sault.  The jewel in the plant world, lavender, has been used for a long time to make lovely scented soap and cosmetics, even in the cuisine.  One of the lasting memories of France is delicious lavender honey and lavender summer salads.

Enchanting villages, millions of sunflowers, perfume workshops, glorious fields of lavender - planted in long lines, undulating, as far as the eye could see in the South of France.  I was so taken by the visions of fields upon fields of lavender in the UK before my stroke, that we spent quite a lot of holidays in France, chasing the lavender treasure. We were there too early in the year, one summer.

The next year, we were there too late, as it had been a blisteringly hot summer, and they had to harvest the lavender early. Over the next few years it was touch and go, finally we were there just before the harvest. I remembered that it was before the internet took off in a big way, so it was that you took your chances and went with the flow, in the 1990's.

In Aromatherapy, lavender is one of the most useful remedies, and one of my favourite essential oils.   Just getting a whiff soothes headaches and provides relief for insomnia, stress and nervous tension.  The essential oil can be used topically to help with skin blemishes, irritations and insect bites. Lavender essential oil with a touch of cinnamon, rosemary, citrus peels for a natural air freshener, perhaps. There are many more ways to use lavender; definitely worth researching.

I'd always loved to scent of lavender, high summer days that last for ever, lavender bushes shimmering against the blue sky, the bees buzzing in and out among the flowers, stirring up the intense, sweet sensation. I always have some in the home, somewhere, for just in case, as it has such varied uses in the kitchen cupboard. The essential oil can be used to help with cuts and even burns.  Lavender could be made into aromatic bars, luxurious body butter, even lavender lip balm for smooth, hydrated, healing with natural ingredients.  I spied in a gift-shop in France, sprigs of dried lavender tied with colourful ribbons, laid out elegantly; or even hand-made dried French Lavender topiaries and bouquets.

Researching more, I found that some lavender fields in NZ were close to us, others in the South Island. Some were BnBs, others were wedding venues, while numerous lavender farms were grown for cropping. I'd definitely forgotten where I'd taken those photos at that time. Memory blank; I enlisted Murray's help. He was more familiar with the terrain and the landmarks. I'd had good memory, better than most, some would say, a long time ago, before my stroke. Memory... (see Stroke) Finally, we deduced the route …

We set out on a Saturday morning – the day was fresh and sunny, a hot day ahead. Driving towards Hamilton, perhaps we could visit the Waitomo glowworm caves, or Hobbiton near Matamata, on our next visit south of Auckland. Both Murray and I had been to the Waitomo caves in our distant past. Waitomo caves and Hobbiton are further on from where we were going, and in quite opposite directions. Each deserved to be on a separate trip in itself.

At last we got there; Alphra Lavender, about half an hours drive bit south of Hamilton, just outside the rural town of Kihikihi. We had hoped to be there, before or at least when they harvested. Yes, it was summer but it was very wet a month before, so the blooms weren't quite out yet. Long lines of lavender bushes nodding their heads in the perfumed breeze. There were honey-bees aplenty going about their busy way, buzzing quietly, as they flit from lavender head to the next lavender head.

Looking into the distance, it seemed slightly incongruous – pasture land all around the farm, and away into the distance. Cows in a huddle nearby, sheep grazing on sweet grass across the way on the next hill, mountains in the background... That was the only lavender farm for hundreds of miles.  We took photos and visited the little shop on the premises. Lavender is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungus, anti-bacterial and has a calming effect. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Roman have used lavender variously as embalming fluid, for its medicinal purposes, or as a ritual to scent their cleansing baths.  It relaxes the body, soothes the cares away for peace of mind.  We and the owners, chatted for a while, learned how the pressed and distilled the concentrate, and we bought a few items. There's this year harvest to look forward to. November to January, did the lady proprietress say? We'll try to be there...

On our way back we stopped by Vilagrad Vineyard & Winery, closer to Hamilton, to see what it was like now and pick up a brochure.   I had visited there more than 15 years before, so it would be interesting to see if there were any changes.  The entryway was still lined with the large oak barrels outside. It was relatively the same, give or take.   Inside, the staff were busily preparing for a wedding celebration that evening – band equipment, speakers, tables spick'n'span with lavishly appointed coverings, flowers.. exciting. Pity we weren't on the guest list (!).

On the brochure, the Sunday buffet brunch was similar to what I had before. Harvest festival, dance party, weddings, winery and vineyard, but now with onsite accommodation as well and much more - fantastic.  I remembered sitting beneath an open pergola of grapevines back then – the food on offer was amazing, looking forward having the buffet soon.  Wine'n'dine in a vineyard, and there were concerts there too? I'll have to put it in my diary to come again soon...