Natalie Hodgson – Lady in Lavender

By Nicky Westwood

Some of you may remember Natalie Hodgson, beekeeper, lavender farm owner, and long-time member of the Herb Society. I was recently reminded about her when chatting with Herb Society Fellow, Jan Greenland, and later Jan sent me an article from the August 1998 Shopshire magazine. Jan, as you can tell, is someone who never throws anything away! Natalie is on the cover, looking thoughtfully at her lavender field, and with her large Elizabethan mansion in the background. Natalie died in December 2007 at the age of 95, but for those of you who knew her, and those that didn’t, I thought I would bring her briefly back to life.

thumbnail_Natalie

Natalie was one of those people you meet less and less now. She was part of the generation that had lived through WWII and come out stronger and brighter and firmer. She was a bundle of energy, and always full of ideas.

Born in Coventry in 1912 she was educated at Sherborne and The Sorbonne in Paris. She worked at the Foreign Office in London, and after the Second World War was a senior librarian. She and her late husband, Benji, moved to Astley Abbotts in 1953 and she took an active part in politics serving as an Independent member on Shropshire
County Council. They have three children and nine grandchildren.

After 51 years of marriage she was widowed in 1989 and found herself perforce the chief gardener at Astley Abbotts, and grew 100 different herbs, having prior to Benji’s death described herself as “pig ignorant” about plants. This garden was a popular call on the Shropshire circuit for the National Gardens Scheme.

Not satisfied with keeping the garden alive, she started a lavender farm, planting over 5,000 lavender plants. She said “I just turn up the soil where I want the plants to grow and put in two or three cuttings. Then I put the top off a plastic bottle over them and they usually do well. I have a 70% success rate.” This was open to the public from
June to August, providing help to local organisations. The farm produced its own wax polish, oils and pot pourri. Natalie ran lavender workshops, instructing others on how to make fragrant products from the plant’s flowers and foliage.

                             

Natalie was well aware of the need for pollination. Describing herself as “a bit batty” she then installed twenty eight bee hives near the lavender field which included eight in Astley Abbotts Bee Village, complete with Bee Inn and Pollen Row. She ruefully observed to Jan Greenland, Herb Society Fellow, “Sadly more bees frequent the pub
than the church.”

There was always something lovely about being around Natalie, and I visited her several times at Astley Abbotts, and spoke to her often on the phone. She would say “This may be the last time you speak to me!” with wonderful valour and intrepidity, as though she would be off on another adventure. Somehow the idea of her going never
seemed likely: she had too much energy and enthusiasm.

Natalie became the oldest English author on record at the age of 93 when she wrote “Fateful Beauty”, the story of Frances Coke, whose father, Sir Edward Coke, introduced the Petition of Rights into Parliament. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Frances Coke lived during England’s Civil War. She was married off by her father to a man she didn’t
love, and her life was a short and unhappy one – she died at the age of 40 having been turned out of the home, and with no rights to see her children. Natalie decided to tell her story because it was a lot which befell many women of the time. The story sticks with me to this day.

At 95 Natalie’s love of bees led her, despite contrary family advice, to a bee keeping conference in Asia. She suffered DVT as a result of the return journey, which ultimately led to a heart attack. However, prior to her departure from this world, she celebrated her 95th birthday at the House of Lords, where a get-together was organised by her elder son, Lord Robin Hodgson, of Astley Abbotts. She always did things in style!

Fateful Beauty: The Story of Francis Coke (1602-1642) by Natalie Hodgson is published by Eye Books ISBN: 1903070503

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