Undulating rows of purple flowers stretch as far as the eye can see, a floral fragrance lingering just above them, wafted gently by a warm breeze.
Summer means that lavender has come into season, attracting not only the bees which collect its pollen, but also daytrippers seeking an escape into spectacular scented scenery.
But while a trip to a lavender field will undoubtedly add an indigo glow to your Instagram feed, there may be other benefits to venturing among these violet blooms.
In the leafy region of Surrey, almost within sniffing distance of south London, the family-owned Mayfield Lavender Farm, like many others around the world, this month opened its gates to the public for its short annual season.
With the lavender in full bloom, visitors are treated to an assault on all senses.
First to hit is the distinctive scent carried on the air every time the sea of flowers ripples. Next is the visual feast of orderly shrubs in deep shades of purple, planted in tessellated rows to create a pathway.
Finally, there’s the tranquility hanging in the air, not due to the lack of visitors, of which there are plenty, but because these vast rolling fields seem to absorb all noise.
All in all, it’s no wonder why on some of its busiest days the farm has more than 10,000 visitors.
And all of them seem to come armed with cameras. People posing, staging walks, and even doing full-blown photoshoots, can be found every few feet.
Among them is 21-year-old British artist and rapper, Jules, for a photoshoot for his album cover. He says he wanted it set in a field of flowers because “there’s something elegant about them.”
Others come from further afield to enjoy the idyllic scenery.
Christina Maye, whose parents Brendan and Lorna own and run the farm, said that over half of visitors they get are tourists on vacation, like 26-year-old Sara Alshahrani, 26, from Saudi Arabia, who specifically researched the place because she “just really loves lavender.”
A wellness fix in a day trip?
While lavender fields form the perfect Instagram backdrop, they’re also said to offer health benefits. For centuries the flower has been used as a remedy for pain and burns. One common claim is that it helps with mental health issues such as anxiety and stress.
Dr Nilufar Ahmed, a psychotherapist and chartered psychologist from the UK’s University of Bristol said the scent of lavender has a “relaxing effect.”
“It reduces symptoms of anxiety by reducing heart rate and regulating breathing,” she told CNN.
Lavender contains a naturally occurring compound called linalool that is commonly found in fruits, flowers and herbs such as oranges and roses, often giving off a strong smell. It is also strongly present in cannabis, a smell that is sometimes similar to lavender.
It is this compound that studies have found to induce relaxation and reduce anxiety.
Ahmed said lavender “can be a great benefit for everyday stress and as an additional support to those with high levels of anxiety,” but warns that anyone affected by anxiety should seek professional help.
Many studies have also shown that lavender can help with sleep, although sleep specialist Kevin Morgan, an emeritus professor of psychology at Loughborough University, in central England, called the research “weak,” partly because it only focuses on small groups.
“Studies have been done that do suggest sleep can be benefited, but it isn’t a cure to disorders like insomnia,” Morgan told CNN.
While lavender may not promise the restful snooze you hoped for, the positive mental state it can help foster does.
“Mental health and sleep go hand-in-hand – one affects the other,” Ahmed, the psychologist, said.
“Anxiety and worry can result in the inability to sleep, which in turn decreases mood and intensifies anxiety,” she said, adding that a “known symptom of depression is disordered sleep – too much or too little.”
But even just being out in nature can be beneficial to mental health, potentially leading to better sleep. A review published in 2020 looking at studies on college-aged students found that even brief spells outside reduced feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.
Walking through the lavender, it’s hard not to brush your fingers over the flowers and wallow in their olfactory delights, let alone bury your face in a shrub, which you probably shouldn’t.
Tempted to seek out some lavender bliss? Here’s some of the best places around the world to experience them, restrictions permitting, before the season ends.
Mayfield Lavender Farm, Surrey, UK
This organic, family-run farm holds sunset yoga sessions amid the lavender and also offers bee safaris, where visitors can get a taste of the honey made on site.
Valensole Plateau, Provence, France
Depending on the field you visit, you can see lavender against endless rows of sunflowers or olive trees.
Balaton-felvidéki National Park, Tihany, Hungary
Here, visitors get the chance to harvest their own lavender fresh off the shrubs at a “pick it yourself” event.
Cape Cod Lavender Farm, Massachusetts, USA
Also family-owned, this farm boasts woodland walking trails and is free to visit.
Landiao Lavender Garden, Beijing, China
During non-Covid times, this garden is particularly busy in early August because of Qixi, the Chinese equivalent to Valentine’s Day.
Furano Flower Fields, Hokkaido, Japan
Lavender is only in bloom for a few months of the year, so Furano has other flowers to bring in the crowds during the off season.
Warratina Lavender Farm, Yarra Valley, Australia
Australian summers fall differently than for the rest of us, with the farm opening later in the year and holding a harvest festival in November.
Lavender Farm Guest House, Franschhoek, South Africa
Visitors can stay on the farm, enjoying the peace of the lavender fields for days on repeat.