I sat at the edge of a flax field today for a brief moment, watching the “French blue” flowers atop their needle-straight, pistachio green stalks shimmer in the wind. There is something very special about a field of flax in bloom, for the flowers make it look like a lake from afar. From close up, flax flowers look like fairy lights; it’s hard to think of these lovely plants as a commodity crop, it is so decorative.
Ten years ago, we weren’t wearing much linen, and flax fields were few and far between. Flax is the pride of the Norman farmer, and Normandy is the world’s premier producer of flax for fiber. (Most flax for seed is grown in Canada.) That there was little to be seen was sad, reflecting near-forgotten times when natural fibers made sense. Now, they make sense again, the fields are back, the buyers stumbling over each other to reserve their stocks. All of this is good news for the Norman farmer.
Now is the optimum moment for flax, when the weather is still cool but the sun is out for up to 18 hours a day. Blue lakes cover the landscape. In a week, the tiny flowers will have faded and the stalks will gradually turn golden. In another few weeks they’ll be cut. They fall flat, in orderly rows in the field where they will stay, come rain and shine, for weeks as they cure into an almost unbreakable toughness. Once cured, the stalks are rolled into bundles and stored until called for from fabric makers worldwide.
When you slip on those lovely linen clothes, you are likely wearing fiber grown in the lush soil of Normandy, where lakes of blue punctuate the late spring landscape.