2013 Chelsea Flower Show, Gnomes, Celebrities, Plants and Teas

The 100th Chelsea Flower Show will be certainly one to remember, the weather played havoc before we arrived and the Friday was the coldest wettest day that I have experienced in our history of the show, which is 21 years.  But despite the weather the flower show weaved it’s MAGIC.

BORAGE THE GNOME. Before the show opened Borage was in much demand as gnomes were being allowed at the Chelsea flower show for the very first time. Of course he went, but he behaved so  badly that we sent him gnome ( sorry!!!)

Borage and his friends at this year's Chelsea Flower Show

Borage and his friends at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show

SUNDAY is the final day of build up, hence the HiVis tops as the site is still considered to be a building site .  We finished our display and had a lovely time catching up with old friends such as Alan and Toby who were both busy recording with the BBC.

Sunday at Chelsea before the show opens

Sunday at Chelsea before the show opens

MONDAY Hannah dressed up in 1913 costume to celebrate the 100th Chelsea Flower Show, she looked amazing.  The launch of the new Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea  herb teas was a big success, everyone loved the Lemon Grass Tea.  It was great to be able to see and greet many old and new friends, especially  Toby who was the RHS Young School Gardener of the Year, a gardener of the future.

Monday at  the Chelsea Flower Show

Monday at the Chelsea Flower Show

TUESDAY  is the first official day of the show .  Nancy, known as the’ Lemon Verbena Lady’ in her blog, visited the show for the first time from the USA.  Vicki , like Hannah, also took the trouble to dress up in 1913 costume which was much appreciated by all of us and the visitors.   The borage that we started growing last November for Chelsea could be seen here in Adam Frost’s  garden ‘Sowing Seeds of Change’ which was awarded a worthy gold medal.

Tuesday at the Chelsea Flower show

Tuesday at the Chelsea Flower show

WEDNESDAY  Over the years that the Fleming’s have been exhibiting at the Chelsea show  we have become good friends. Wes Fleming informed us that sadly this would be their last exhibit.  So it was even more pleasing  that they finished with the award of Best Show Garden.

Fleming's nurseries the  Trailfinders Australian Garden awarded best Show Garden

Fleming’s nurseries the Trailfinders Australian Garden awarded best Show Garden

The Trailfinders Australian garden early in the morning.

The Trailfinders Australian garden early in the morning.

THURSDAY  Every year there is one herb that catches the attention, this year it was Nasturtium Alaska which behaved beautifully.

Nasturtium Alaska

Nasturtium Alaska

FRIDAY  We have been exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower show for 21 years and never have we known it to be so cold and wet all day.

Wet Friday

Wet Friday

The weather did not put off our good friends from Norway who enjoyed the show. 

Liv Ragnhild Lassen from Norway

Liv Ragnhild Lassen from Norway

SATURDAY The last day is always a mixture of feelings.  Glad to be going home, but sad that this beautiful show will have vanished and will only be preserved in photographs.  The people choice  went to  the the Arthritis Research UK garden by Chris Beardshaw.  This border filled with Sweet cicely , Myrrhis odorata was one of our favourites in the show. 

The Arthritis Research UK garden with Sweet Cicely . Myrrhis odorata

The Arthritis Research UK garden with Sweet Cicely,  Myrrhis odorata

Once the bell has been rung to signal the end of the show, the plants in the Great Pavillion and from our stand are sold.

The packing up of the stand

The packing up of the stand

Then, when everyone has left the site, we  pack up and wait for the lorries to come in to take everything back to the Herb Farm. While we wait we plan our stand for  next year’s Chelsea Flower Show which will have all the drama, beauty and magic that we have had this year`. 

And now it is time for our Herb Friday’s we are open every friday from May 31st until July 12th from 10am – 4pm when we look forward to showing you the Herboretum, the Herbs and  having a cup of our new herb tea with home made cakes.

Annual herbs at the Herboretum

Annual herbs at the Herboretum

Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co

LEMON GRASS

Mention Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus, and it immediately conjures up the aromas and magic of the East.   Here in the UK only the stems are available from supermarkets for use in the kitchen.

PC43 stems

Lemon Grass Stems

It was not until I started growing Lemon Grass at the Herb Farm that I discovered how amazingly useful and flavoursome the leaves are both in the kitchen and for herbal remedies.

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass is indigenous to Southeast Asia. Records show that the Persians were using it as a tea in the first century BC.  The first time I drank it as a herbal tea was when I visited Malaysia, it was served cold, which was surprising, but once drunk, one realised that it was a truly refreshing drink that cleared the palate and helped one unwind after a long journey.

All of us at Jekka’s Herb farm are extremely excited that we have joined forces with the Canton Tea Co to launch a range of Herb infusions, one of which is Lemon Grass.

IMG_6717

Lemon Grass tea from Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co.

Canton Tea are very resourceful at sourcing their teas and this is no exception.  I was very pleased to receive from them the following photographs which depicts  the Lemon Grass plantation at the Amba estate in Sri Lanka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Amba Estate Sri Lanka

and not only shows the immense care that is taken in growing it organically but also how carefully it is harvested.

About 50% of the crop is rejected after sorting.

Harvesting lemon Grass

Once harvested the grass is cut by hand, which takes time, but ensures a beautiful product. So you can be assured that this is the best Lemon Grass tea you will have ever drunk.

Hand cutting

Hand cutting lemon grass

This herbal tea is immensely beneficial, it is a weak sedative and a stomach and gut relaxant, so it is ideal for drinking after a meal. It is also a good antidepressant and helps lift the spirits especially when one is in a bad mood.  But whatever your mood I can guarantee it will tantalize your taste buds and lift your spirits.

New Year, New Chapter

Happy New Year , may 2013 be a bountiful.

At the end of December we started building the first set of raised beds which will house the plants that form the Herboretum.  After much deliberation we have chosen a company called  Woodblocx to supply these raised beds. For, not only had I  seen one of their beds at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show, but I also liked the design concept  which enabled them to be easily assembled on our original hard standings with minimum impact to the established farm.

Cleared Hardstanding December 2012

Henry and James, the proprietors of Woodblocx, kindly came down  from Inverness and spent a day showing us how to build them.

Building the raised beds

It took just three days to build 11  beds.

First side finished

Not only are the beds practical but they also have hidden secrets which makes them unique to the farm.  Hannah sent to Woodblocx drawings of butterflies, bees and herbs which they have etched into the wood  on various beds so creating a treasure hunt for our young visitors.

woodblocx illustrations copy

With the first 10 days in January being so mild we have been making the most of the weather and commenced filling the raised beds.

Filling with a layer of hardcore January 2013

We started with a layer of hard core to help with the drainage followed by a good thick layer of our recycled compost.

Filling with a layer of home made compost

We will then finish with a layer of top soil mixed with sharp horticultural grit.  The beds will then be left to stand for 4-6 weeks to settle so that they can be topped up prior to planting. Whilst these beds are settling in we will build the second set on the other side of the Glasshouse and continue with propagation and potting on so that we are ready for the grand planting and our first Herb Friday.

© Jekka McVicar , Jekka’s Herb Farm,  January 2013.

Inspiring Herbs that shine whatever the weather.

I never cease to be inspired by the fortitude of plants as they always seem to shine despite what the weather throws at them. Here are a few that are currently lifting my spirits even on the glummest days.

Santolina, Cotton Lavender. This herb is a native of Southern France and the Northern Mediterranean area. It was used medicinally for many centuries and historically, during the Medieval period, it was used both as an insect and moth repellent and as a wormer. There are many forms, my favourites are:

Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Lambrook Silver’

Santolina pinnata subsp. neapolitana ‘Edward Bowles’

This herb needs to be cut back hard after flowering to prevent the plant becoming woody or splitting . Unlike its common name sake Lavender, this herb will shoot from old wood, which makes it ideal for growing as an edging plant or as a hedge.

Perilla frutescens var purpurascens Purple Shiso has, unlike its cousin Basil, thrived this year. The purple variety has come into its own in the garden as its deep colour makes the constrasting green leafed herbs seem more vibrant.

Another herb which has truley been spectacular throughout these dank days is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’.

I took this photograph at The Organic Garden on a particularly showery day, yet it still shone at the front of the border; it’s attractive silver foliage reflecting the light of the day.

These plants are currently available on the farm and if you also wish to be inspired please join us at our next Open days on Friday 20th, Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd. You will be able to browse our whole collection and, for those of you with exotic taste, I will be giving two free talks a day on ‘Oriental Herbs.’ Please visit the Open day link for more information and I look forward to seeing you next weekend, whatever the weather!!!

Magical Mint, in the kitchen or as a herb tea.

Personally I think a good culinary mint is not only essential in the  kitchen but also amazingly useful in the home.  It is a fascinating plant steeped in history,  I am particularly fond  of the story that the ancient Greeks believed that after nights of heavy drinking they could place a wreath of mint on their heads to exorcise an impending hangover.

We grow over 33 different  Mentha, Mints, on the herb farm.  Everything from Berries and Cream, to the classic Garden mint.  I have chosen some of my favourites and grouped them according to flavour.

Peppermint is the strongest flavour, it is the best for making a digestive tea, an infusion which is lovely at the end of a meal or for adding to puddings.

Peppermint, Mentha d’ Angleterre , Mentha Anglais,  Pfefferminze and Englisheminze, Mentha x piperita, has pale purple flowers in summer with very peppermint scented darkish green  leaves

A close relation to Peppermint is the Chocolate peppermint, Mentha x piperita f.citrata ‘Chocolate’,  which has pale purple flowers in summer with very peppermint scented dark green  leaves.

Photograph by Torie Chugg

This variety is amazing, it tastes just like expensive chocolates , try it in chocolate mouse.

Spearmint has a mid strength flavour and is known as the classic mint which is  ideal for mint sauce, with yogurt, or as a dressings and with new potatoes and strawberries. It also can be used to make a refreshing herbal tea, ideal for drinking on a hot summers day, or crushed with ice for a cool ‘sun downer’.

Spearmint, Garden Mint, Mentha spicata, has purple/mauve, small flowers in terminal, cylindrical, spikes in summer with mid green lance oval shaped, wrinkled spearmint scented and flavoured leaves.

Both Tashkent Mint, Mentha spicata ‘Tashkent’, and  Moroccan Mint, Mentha spicata crispa ‘Moroccan’, have mid green crinkled spearmint scented and flavoured leaves. They are difficult to tell apart in the kitchen although, in the garden, Tashkent is taller and the leaves are rounder.

Here is a recipe taken from my cook book , ‘Jekka’s Herb Cook Book’

Mint and Aubergine bruschetta.

The flavours of mint, aubergine and garlic are a great combination which makes these bruschetta so appetising. For those, like me, that like to know the meaning of words, ‘Bruschetta’ is derived from the Italian ‘Bruscare’ which means ‘ to roast over coals’. Alternatively you could call this posh toast.

Serves 4

1 Baguette, ( French Stick) ,  2 firm aubergine, 6 tbs olive oil ,  1 lemon,  zest and juice,  2 tbs spearmint, Tashkent, Moroccan or  Garden mint, finely chopped, 1 tbs flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped,  1 clove of garlic, peeled and very finely sliced,  sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

Photograph by Jason Ingram

Slice the aubergine on the diagonal, 1cm thick, sprinkle with salt and set aside for about 40 minutes.  Place the aubergine in a colander and wash well under cold running water.  Pat the aubergine dry using a clean tea towel or paper towels.  Heat a griddle pan until nice and hot. Lay your aubergine slices on it, side by side and, when they are nicely charred on both sides, put them into a salad bowl.You will probably need to cook the aubergine in several batches.
While the aubergine are cooking, put olive oil and the  vinegar into a mixing bowl, mix thoroughly until amalgamated, add the chopped parsley and mint and then the garlic and one teaspoon of lemon zest,  season with salt and pepper to taste.  When the aubergine are all cooked, add them to the bowl and mix around, then check the seasoning again. Heat a grill to hot, slice the baguette on the diagonal, 2-3cm thick, grill on both sides.  Once the toasted baguettes have cooled, add the mint and aubergine mix to the slices, press in so that the juices seep into the toast and serve.

It is our one of our five  open days  this Friday 20th,  Saturday 21st  and Sunday 22nd April  10 am-4pm.  Do come and try some of our different mints.

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citriodora

Now that the clocks have changed and the weather has transformed from winter to high spring over night,  it is the ideal time to prune your Lemon Verbena.

Be brave, cut back hard to just above a leaf bud or to where they will eventually form; they are easily visible on the stem.

By doing this now you will be rewarded with masses of new growth in the summer.

This will then give you masses of leaves too make  the wonderful tisane which is called ‘Verveine’ in France.

Alternatively you can make one my families favourites

Lemon Verbena Crème Brulee

My mother made the best crème brulee. Alistair, my son,  has inherited her passion for them and always rates restaurants and cooks on how well they make them. This is a wonderful recipe; the flavour with its hint of lemon sherbet makes this brulee very special.

Serves 4, Preheat Oven to 140°C/275F/gas mark 1

225ml milk

1 handful of lemon verbena leaves finely chopped, ( reserve 4 whole leaves for use as garnish)

7 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

60ml double cream

50g demerara sugar

Put the milk in a pan with the chopped lemon verbena leaves, bring to simmering point, remove from the heat and then leave to cool and infuse. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Add the cooled infused milk and cream, whisk well. Pass through a fine meshed sieve.  Ladle the mixture into 4 ramekin dishes and set them in a roasting pan. Pour in enough water to come three quarters the way up the side of the ramekins, pop into the pre heated oven and  cook for 1 hour or until set. Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and caramelise with either a blow torch or by putting them under a hot grill. Decorate with some fresh lemon verbena leaves.

Recipe taken from Jekka’s Herb Cook Book

Bon Appetite

All photographs and text are  © Jekka McVicar 2012.  Please do not use without permission.

Our Silver Jubilee year ‘The Feast’

Spring is in the air, although frost is still around the corner.  Many of you, I know, from listening to the news and hearing from other nurseries throughout the UK, need a good supply of rain.  We , here in the west country, have had a good amount, our well is full, our stream is still running, so I consider us very lucky.

2012 is our Jubilee year at Rose Cottage, we moved the herb farm here 25 years ago in April, so during the year we will be holding a number of special events to celebrate.

I started this herb farm because of my passion for good food and because I  wanted to fill my garden with only truly useful plants. Mint is a classic example, it is just emerging with sweet succulent new growth.  This is a family recipe which is easy to make and is very tasty.

Mint and Aubergine bruschetta. (Jekka’s Herb Cook Book) 

Photograph by Jason Ingram

The flavours of fresh mint, aubergine and garlic is a great combination which makes these bruschetta so appetising.

For those like me that like to know the meaning of words ‘burschetta’ is derived form the Italian ‘bruscare’ which means ‘to roast over coals’, alternatively you could call this posh toast.

Serves 4

1 Baguette, ( French Stick), 2 firm aubergine, 6 tbs olive oil, I lemon, zest and juice.  2 tbs spearmint, Tashkent, Moroccan or Garden mint, finely chopped.    1 tbs flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and finely chopped.  1 clove of garlic, peeled and very finely sliced ,  sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.                                                                                                      

Slice the aubergine on the diagonal, 1cm thick, sprinkle with salt and set aside for about 40 minutes. Then place the aubergine in a colander and wash well under cold running water. Pat the aubergine dry using a clean tea towel or paper towels. Heat a griddle pan until nice and hot. Lay your aubergine slices on it side by side and, when they are nicely charred on both sides, put them into a salad bowl. You will probably need to cook the aubergine in several batches.

While the aubergine are cooking, put olive oil and the vinegar into a mixing bowl, mix thoroughly until amalgamated, add the chopped parsley and mint and then the garlic and one teaspoon of lemon zest, season with salt and pepper to taste. When the aubergine are all cooked, add them to the bowl and mix around, then check the seasoning again. Heat a grill to hot, slice the baguette on the diagonal, 2-3cm thick, grill on both sides. Once the toasted baguettes have cooled, add the mint and aubergine mix to the slices, press in so that the juices seep into the toast and serve.

To celebrate our Silver Jubilee and my passion for good food I am very pleased to say that, in conjunction with Louise Brown and her lovely Berry Blue team, we are offering  unique  Gala evenings here at the Herb Farm. This will  include a 4 course dinner created by Berry Blue,  wine, canapés and a welcome glass of bubbly.  This evening will be for a limited number of people and occur on the Thursday before the Open Days.

Many of you, I know, have already met and sampled the delights of Berry Blue at our Open Days and tried their delicious freshly prepared dishes created with Louise’s home grown vegetables, local produce, and yes, many of our herbs.

These unique evenings will start with a private wander around the herb farm  where I and my team will be able to answer your gardening questions, and show you some herbs that you may not already know.  This will be followed by canapés and, while you sip a glass of delicious bubbly, I  will expound about the merits of a few chosen herbs before we all sit down to a wonderful meal, the complexities of which will be explained by the Berry Blue chefs.

At the end of this delectable feast you will be sent on your way with a memorable goodie bag.

If you want more information on this unique event please visit our website Jekka’s Herb Farm

For those of you that cannot join us on these splendid evenings. You can still sample the delights of Berry Blue on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of our Open Days.  This year, especially for those of you who have travelled far or for those of you who love to start the day with a cooked Breakfast, Berry Blue are offering  an Early Bird Breakfast from 9am – 10am,  either cooked or continental.  These will need to be  ordered in advanced by emailing  Claire@berry-blue.co.uk.   They will still be creating their lovely lunches and delcious cakes throughout the day.  You will find the dates of all our events on our website .