Friday 23 August 2019

The colour purple

IN A FIELD OF HER OWN: Wexford Lavender Farm proprietor Moira Hart.
IN A FIELD OF HER OWN: Wexford Lavender Farm proprietor Moira Hart.
6,500 lavender plants went into the ground in 2013, and will reach full maturity by 2018.
The Purple Haze cafe and shop at Wexford Lavender Farm.

By David Medcalf

Purple is the colour at the farm beside the road which runs through the leafy countryside between Inch and Kilanerin north of Gorey Purple paint on the woodwork. Purple tee-shirts worn by the workers. There is even a purple tree.

Serving tea and scones in her Purple Haze café, proprietor Moira Hart admits that she has a passion for purple.

Moira is a purple pioneer, adopting the colour to promote her brand - 'Ireland's first Lavender Farm'.

The home she shares with husband Cary and the couple's two daughters has been transformed into a visitor attraction.

The area around Arklow and Gorey straddling the Wicklow/Wexford border attracts hordes of tourists.

They are drawn to the superb beaches which make the coast a magnet for families on holiday.

But the lady behind the lavender farm has diagnosed a shortage of alternatives to the strand.Hence her purple initiative which comes complete with children's playground, woodland walk - and two acres of lavender.

The scent of the flowers fills the summer air and the sound of bees attending to the crop is almost deafening...

The story began in the 1950s when Moira's grandparents Jack and Eleanor Crozier first come to Inch.

They were from England but had settled in Kenya where they had been growing coffee.

Then they opted for a more temperate climate, moving from Africa to acquire the farm in North Wexford.

They concentrated on dairying and the enterprise passed after Jack died in 1983 to Moira's aunt, Jane Crozier.

Meanwhile, Moira's mother Betty Crozier moved to England and has spent much of her life in Dorchester, married to architect Don Hart.

Betty enjoyed running a slightly chaotic smallholding in Dorchester with chickens running all over the place. Her daughter opted for a more office based career, well away from farms and chickens and any hint of lavender.

Moira worked all over the world, mostly in London, but with stints too in South Africa and Australia.

Then eight years ago, the call came to help Aunt Jane in Ireland, so Moira, Cary and toddler Clara moved over from where they resided in Bournemouth. They have been joined since by a second daughter, Irish born Martha who is now seven years of age.

Moira first found work at Druid's Glen golf course as personal assistant to the then chief executive Richard Collins.

Meanwhile, her husband began to build up his own painting/decorating business.

However, Moira's mind started to turn to the question of how to create something commercial at their new home.

Jane Crozier passed away at the beginning of 2015, having been looked after at the Oakfield nursing home in Riverchapel in her declining years. By the time of her death, the lavender farm was already up and running, with a little help from Wexford Local Development.

Most of the 70 acres is leased out but Moira was long convinced that the place with its ancient farmhouse and farm yard had tourist potential.

Her childhood memories were vivid of holidays in Inch, with its extensive stables and the henhouse which produced the eggs that her grandmother sold at the local market.

It is believed that part of the complex may have been used long ago as a 'Blue Coat' school for the education of Protestant orphans.

Constructed with a mixture of brick and stone, it certainly has great charm and the new proprietors felt that it could become a crowd pleaser.

'I saw the potential,' says Moira Hart. 'There are not a lot of tourist facilities in North Wexford - but there are a lot of tourists.'

She takes her hat off to those who have made Wells House such a hive of activity and observes that Gorey appears to be thriving.

Still, there is plenty of room for her small scale enterprise, for something different as she puts it.

The lavender farm in Inch is not unique. Her market research uncovered at least a dozen of them in the UK, all designed to appeal to visitors rather than being simply agricultural.

There is also a high profile plot of lavender closer to home at the other end of the N11 but the gates are open to the public at Kilmacanogue only in the month of July.

A business plan was drawn up for the Inch venture and 6,500 plants went into the ground in 2013. The plot covered two acres and it was back breaking work: 'I am no farmer,' says Moira with feeling.

One of Wexford's most unusual crops took root successfully, while plaster was stripped from old walls to make the café.

Abandoned stray sacks year of 40 year old barley and junk accumulated over centuries were cleared away while attic floors removed to allow greater roof spaced in the stables.

Where Aunt Jane used to park her car is now a children's party room and the kitchen is located where mares with foals used to be housed.

A car park and children's playground have been constructed and a train pulled by a quad bike with a bull's head (purple, of course) offers a ride around the grounds.

The Harts have built a foot-bridge to open up the adjoining Coillte owned forest to walkers who may tackle a seven kilometre circuit.

However, many of those who come spend much of their time in more relaxed mode, simply wandering around the flowers or sitting and looking out over the lavender plot.

They may also care to purchase a cup of coffee, or perhaps dried lavender, lavender plants, lavender cosmetics.

Moira has even been known to add lavender as a flavour to some of her recipes for biscuits and scones and salad dressings - the plant is sometimes referred to as a herb.

And plans are afoot to work with Gorey apiarist Gerry Williams to make and sell lavender honey. Though Moira has her own equipment to distil oil from the lavender plants, she does not sell this precious liquid.

The still set up in the farmyard has a notional capacity of 100 litres but she reckons that processing all of her crop would yield no more than a gallon.

Commercial lavender oil production is a business that only makes sense in warmer, more Mediterranean climates.

Now in her second year as lavender farm, the boss in Inch finds she has a hit on her hands.

She caters for ladies who lunch, for families on country drives, for retirement groups and kids' birthday parties.

She recently welcomed a class of aroma therapy students to discuss the health giving properties of her purple flowers.

And she has not yet finished plotting, pondering that there are still outhouses waiting to be converted into soap making workshops or artist studios.

Like the lavender plants, which will not reach full maturity until around 2018, the enterprise has not yet attained its full potential.

• Wexford Lavender Farm, at Inch, Gorey, is

open Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. See

Wexford People

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