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A hard prune and good oil

Jan and Stu Abernethy of Lavender Abbey returned to Carterton with an excellent crop of awards from this year’s New Zealand Lavender Growers Association [NZLGA] Supreme Oil Awards 2023.

The couple, who tend over 4000 lavender plants at their Dalefield Road property, beat stiff competition to win a total of nine awards, including two trophies, one gold certificate and six silver certificates for oils extracted from their English lavender [lavandula angustifolia] and French hybrid lavandin varieties.

The confirmation that Lavender Abbey was producing “the best oils in New Zealand” felt “amazing”, Jan said.

It’s been a long journey to producing winning oil from their lavender farm.

“It was seven years before we got our first award,” Jan said, and she admits, “we were doing it wrong for a long time. But we’ve made up for it now.”

The Abernethys credit a good distillation process as well as maintaining good plant health and soil health for producing top oils.

“I think it helps that we prune our lavender hard every year. Lavender likes being hard pruned,” Jan said.

Picking the lavender at the right time is also crucial, Stu said. “It’s the hardest thing to get right and comes down to experience.”

As well as needing to “smell nice”, other qualities needed in an award-winning oil include balance and authenticity, Stu explained.

“[The scent] needs to match the variety in terms of the characteristics it should have without what they call ‘off notes’.”

“So when you smell it, there’s not something that says, ‘hmmm, I don’t know’,” Jan said. “There’s not one aroma that is overpowering the others, so it’s quite balanced.”

The Abernethys moved to Lavender Abbey from Pukerua Bay on the Kāpiti Coast just over 15 years ago.

While Stu appreciated the farm’s flat terrain, proximity to the train station [he commutes to Wellington regularly] and Tararua Ranges [for the rainfall], and the fact that the house had been recently renovated, Jan only had eyes for the lavender.

“When I saw the ad in the paper, I wasn’t looking at anything else except the lavender,” she said. “So we came to have a look and we were looking around and we just pretty much looked at each other and said, ‘this is it’.”

They have since added an orchard, vegetable garden, farm shop and eight more rows of lavender.

As well as pick-your-own lavender days during the summer season, Jan makes a variety of lavender-based products she sells at fairs and markets and from their farm shop, the aptly named ‘Big Box of Lavender’.

Handmade products include lavender oil, bath salts, balms, creams and lotions.

But Jan’s favourite product to make is lavender soap bars, which each bear the Lavender Abbey stamp and are individually packaged in delicate white fabric bags.

“I actually love making soap. I just love it. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s the same as any product – you start with a liquid – oil and water – and then bring it all together.”

The couple will start thinking about next year’s NZLGA competition in May 2024 when entries open.

Their hope is to see ‘Lavender Abbey’ inscribed on the Dennis Matthews Memorial Trophy and Ken Wilson Memorial Trophy for a third year in a row.

Lavender Abbey’s awards at NZLGA 2023:

Trophy for the Best Lavandula angustifolia – ‘Violet Intrigue 2023’

Trophy for the Best Grosso –
‘Grosso 2022’

Certificates:

Gold Violet Intrigue 2023

Silver Violet Intrigue 2022

Silver Violet Intrigue 2021

Silver Grosso 2023

Silver Grosso 2022

Silver Grosso 2021

Silver for 2 x Blends 2022

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