Traditional symbols of eternal life and happiness

We have passed the Equinox and the nights are drawing in.  The bees and butterflies are making the most of the glimmers of  sunshine, feasting on the nectar of ivy  flowers as they well know that the weather is turning and winter will soon be upon us.   I have always been fascinated about the traditional and ancient uses of Herbs.

Ivy, Hedra helix L. an evergreen native herb which, in ancient times,  symbolised eternal life, loyalty, devotion and undying desire, for it’s well known habit of attaching itself firmly to a wall or tree.

Bay, Laurus nobilis, was also considered a symbol of eternal life. The Greek generals wore a laurel wreath in the belief that, by doing so, they could cleanse themselves from the bloodshed. .  The Romans, adopted the Bay as a symbol of victory. The latin ‘laureate’ means crowned with laurels, a synonym for bay, hence Poet Laureate.

And Myrtle, Myrtus communis,  a personal favourite, for it looks good all season long and is so useful in the kitchen. In ancient times, and this tradition has returned, was the symbol of love, marriage and fertility.  The Myrtle wreath was often worn by brides and bridegrooms.  In Wales it was believed that the destruction of the Myrtle is tantamount to killing love and peace.

So these three herbs, Ivy, Myrtle and Bay  when arranged in a vase to brighten the home in winter  symbolises happiness,  love, devotion and longevity.

The joy and beauty of the garden , Oregano.

Origanum dictamnus, Dittany of Crete

The word Oregano is derived from the Greek oros, meaning ‘mountain’ and ganos, meaning ‘joy’ and ‘beauty’, how right.  This is the most wonderful group of plants that not only look stunning at this time of year but are also useful in the kitchen  and very beneficial for bees and butterflies.

The leaves of this herb have a wonderful rounded flavour and a tea can be made from the leaves to ease an upset  stomach.   Sadly this  oregano, is now endangered in the wild.  To grow it in the UK you must plant it in a very well drained soil as otherwise our wet winters will cause it to rot.

Another wonderful oregano in this group is  Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ much beloved by bees.

Origanum ‘Kent Beuaty’

These amazing bracts which surround the small flowers turn an even deeper shade of pink as the flowers fade.

The bracts dry beautifully making them ideal for dried flower arrangements and a wonderful Christmas presents for friends.

Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’

This oregano I found as a seedling growing  along side  Origanum dictamnus.  I propagated it and found that it ran true from cuttings so named it Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’.   The leaves of this oregano are also hairy, just like O. dictamnus, and they also have a good culinary flavour.

With all these special, beautiful, Oregano’s it is essential to cut them back hard after flowering so that they make a new crown of leaves which will then help the plant survive the winter months.  You will then  be rewarded with a spectacular display  in the following summer.

It’s that Thyme of the year.

I am a real sucker when it comes to thyme plants.  I can be found at plant fairs hunting them out, as others hunt truffles.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  They can vary in scent from wonderful spicy orange and a herby lemon to a pungent pine.  The leaves can vary from large and round to long and thin, or even woolly.  I defy any one not to want them in the garden especially when they are in flower.  Historically they have been used medicinally since Assyrian times, which was at the end of the second millennium BC.  Current research has shown Thymus vulgaris arrest the ageing process and is very beneficial in the treatment of stomach ulcers.

My collection has expanded over the past two decades to over  50 different thyme varieties and it is at this time of year they look so beautiful.

The best culinary thymes  in my opinion are, Orange scented, Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Broad leaf thyme, Thymus pulegioides, Golden lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Golden Lemon’, Lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Culinary Lemon’ and French thyme, Thymus vulgaris ‘French’

If I had to just choose one it would be the broad leaved thyme as this is so useful with its large leaves that can be used whole or chopped, roasted with vegetables,

Thymus pulegioides

used in marinades, or infused in water then added to the bath to ease my aching muscles.

The  creeping varieties  are wonderful for bees and butterflies and spread delightfully over gravel and rocks. Here are just four to inspire you.

My top tip for growing thymes is to cut them back after flowering, this encourages the plant to put on new growth which helps to protect them from the vagaries of the winter.

We will be taking a lovely selection of Thymes to  this  years RHS Hampton Court , 2nd-8th July, where I am going to create a small herb garden that you will be able to walk through.  This will be situated down by the Rose Marquee site number TH/5   and near the Thames entrance.  Look forward to seeing you there.

TheStars of the Chelsea Flower Show 2012

Thymus ‘Jekka’, Artemisia absinthium, Wormwood,Mentha longifolia subsp schimperi Eastern Mint, Atriplex hortensis var. rubra Red Orach, Papaver rhoeas Field Poppy.

I always find it truly amazing that, however worried I get before Chelsea  and whatever the vagaries of the weather, the plants seem to know that it is ‘Show Time’ and simply shine on the day.  Who would have thought it would have been possible to have the Poppy in flower especially as, one week before the show, they were still buds.

Papaver rhoeas, Poppy  and Linum perenne, Flax.

We grew them for 2 show gardens, the Arthritis Research Garden and the  L’Occitane Immortelle Garden, and used the surplus stock in our own display.  The simple splash of red draws you eye to see even more detail within the garden.

Istatis tinctoria, Woad looked stunning in the L’Occitane Immortelle Garden  and also the Renault garden in the new Fresh garden section of the show.

Istatis tinctoria, Woad, with Silybum marianum, Milk Thistle in front

This is a traditional dye plant which produces a blue/grey dye from the mature leaves. As a dye plant it has now been nearly superseded by indigo.

Isatis tinctoria, Woad, in full yellow flower under planted with Allium schoenoprasum, Chives,and Nepeta x faassenii, Catmint.

We also battled with the cornflowers for the RBC Blue Water garden and even they sprung into flower just in time.

Centaurea cyanus, Cornflower

But the star of this year, as in many previous years,was Angelica. It looked architecturally splendid on the M&G garden.

Angelica archangelica, Angelica

It also attracted the honey bees which were being constantly photographed on our stand.

The question of the show was about Alkanet and Borage as many seemed confused as to which was which .

To make it quite clear. Alkanet, like its first cousin Comfrey, is a herbaceous perennial reappearing each year in the same place.  It is not edible,  the roots produce a red dye which was traditional used to colour rouge.  Borage, on the other hand, is an annual herb which will happily self seed itself all round your garden.  The leaves and flowers are edible and medicinal. The flowers are synonymous with the drink  Pimm’s.

As we close on this years Chelsea we are already in full preparation for 2013, the 100th Chelsea Flower Show, which will, I am sure, be as spectacular as this year has been.

Thymus ‘Jekka’

Hampton Court herbs-a-buzzing

Hampton Court Flower Show was a joy, if a little wet (saved on watering though).

Visitors are still surprised to see us there, as we no longer exhibit in the floral marquee. Instead, these days, we have a ‘plant plot’, and Jekka continues to create a beautiful herb display to show visitors how organic herbs can totally transform a garden.

 Jekka’s Herbs, and the team – Dan, Hannah, Mark and Jekka, Hampton Court 2011

The archway (above) is Galega officinalis  Goat’s Rue (a.k.a. French Lilac), flanked on each side by Humulus lupulus‘Aureus’ AGM Golden HopMonarda didyma Bee Balm Bergamot obliged by opening its beautiful red blooms that week, and Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ was an absolute show stealer. And we were very pleased to pick up an award – runner-up in the ‘Totally Plants’ area.

Oregano Kent Beauty

Jekka’s display was a bee magnet. The moment we unloaded the plants, the bees moved in and lodged happily with us all week.

Bee-ing busy on the Cornflower

Tall swathes of Lythrum salicaria Purple Loosestrife, Salvia sclarea Clary Sage, Ammi majus Bishops Flower and Centaurea cyanus Cornflower surrounded the thyme garden at the front.  Our best selling herbs had to be Persicaria Odorata, Vietnamese Coriander and Porophyllum ruderale, Bolivian Coriander.

The very lovely Alan Titchmarsh kindly popped along to see us, along with BBC Gardener’s World presenter, Joe Swift.

Jekka and Alan Titchmarsh (top), Joe Swift (below) and a spot of welcome sunshine

July has been..um, busy (understatement). We really do need another experienced horticulturist to join the team. Now we’re all prepping for the next big buzz on the farm: our July Open Days, which start this Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th, 10am-4pm. Bee there!