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.

Twenty five years… my memories of growing up on the Herb farm.

In the lead up to the Farm’s Silver Jubilee celebration, we have all been reflecting back on the last 25 years, which for me has been my childhood growing up on the nursery. The Herb farm has naturally evolved at the same rate that my brother Alistair and I have grown up, and we have shared every step along the way.

Our Back garden in Filton, 1985

It all started as a hobby in our back garden at our semi-detached house in Filton, Bristol. There is only 18 months between my brother and I, so Jekka (mum) decided to give up work to look after us. It was only natural for Jekka to invest time making our family a herb garden, as her mother and grandmother were passionate cooks whom used lots of herbs in their dishes. As toddlers, we spent a lot of time in the garden beside her, digging up our her seedlings and putting all sorts of  things into our mouths, fortunately we have always been organic from the very start.

Many of Jekka’s friends use to raid our herb garden, for Tarragon or Lemon Thyme, depending on what fashionable recipe they were trying to re-create that evening.  Jekka started to grow herbs in pots for them to take home.  I remember pots of herbs all over the house and on any spare surface, in the conservatory, up the stairs and in the bathroom. It soon became obvious that we needed more space, so in 1987, we moved to Rose Cottage and the start of the business, as we know it today, really began.

Rose Cottage was a derelict blacksmiths cottage on 2 acres of land. We all lived in a mobile home for two years whilst we made half of the house inhabitable. It was a picture of the good life, plus two toddlers and a hyperactive border collie called Ben, who loved to chase the swallows. And just to add a further complication, Jekka also had her right arm in plaster, as a local farmer had enthusiastically swung her across a barn at a local barn dance. Alistair and I spent most of our time outside, having many pirate adventures. Our dad, Mac, helped us build Dens and Tree houses, with the pallets from the compost deliveries, all over the farm and in our over grown orchard.

Our first Poly Tunnel at Rose Cottage, 1987

We also had many adventures on the road. With two child seats strapped in beside her, Jekka would travel around selling her herbs to local shops and local garden centres in the South-West of England and South Wales. Alistair and I, always wanting to help, would carry one plant each, whilst Jekka would carry in trays. We would always be singing and making up songs. We had one song in particular – ‘ We are the champions’ by Queen, it was not for several years that I discovered that my mum had not in fact made up this song, it was quite a disappointment to discover that it was well known.

In 1991, we exhibited for the very first time at Bath Flower show. Jekka had designed a silver snail, for which we were awarded a silver medal. Alistair and I were her sales assistants and would be stood on a box to make ourselves look taller, proudly repeating all of Jekka’s stories about herbs to the public. We were fashioned with white baseball caps with the herb farm logo hand painted on in green fabric paint, so that people knew whom we belonged to, especially useful when we went off on our explorations.

It was through exhibiting at Bath Flower show that Jekka gained her confidence to exhibit her herbs at the RHS Flower Shows. In 1993, they built their first island exhibit, at Bath, and were awarded a large gold medal. This boded well, as a month later Jekka and Mac drove to London in our small white van and with our neighbour’s horsebox, to build their first Chelsea Flower show display. I had just started Secondary school and Alistair was in his final year of Primary school. Our dad would pick us up direct from school on the Tuesday evening and drive us straight to London. In those days, Jekka borrowed a caravan and was camping in Battersea Park. We would change into our ‘posh’ clothes in the caravan and then catch the red double-decker bus to the bullring entrance, where Jekka would be waiting to walk us to her display. For our first Chelsea exhibit, we were awarded a silver-guilt medal. After all the excitement we would be bundled back into the car, full of sleeping bags and pillows, clothed in our pyjamas, to be driven back to Bristol so that we could go to school the next day. This tradition continued for the next 7 years whilst we were in school.

Our first RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibit, 1993

That same year, we exhibited at the first RHS Hampton Court Flower show and were awarded our first RHS Gold medal, for our Thyme sundial. I am extremely proud to say that we only ever won Gold medals at Hampton court and have named our Golden Retriever, Hampton, after the show.

Geoff Hamilton talking to camera on our Hampton Court stand.

It was a very busy year for Jekka as she was also writing her first book ‘Jekka’s Complete Herb Book,’ which is still in print and on its second edition. We were now living in half of the cottage whilst we were converting the other half. Our main living area was also the kitchen, dining room, sitting room and mum’s office. We would be watching Blue Peter, with Jekka sat behind us typing and Mac  sat at the kitchen table working on the accounts. In the evenings, I would fall asleep to the sounds of Eric Clapton as mum continued to write all night.

That summer, we all went camping in Brittany. As with most camping holidays it rained a lot. During this holiday Jekka and Mac both had to proof read the book. We would have big adventures, similar to Famous Five, walking along the cliffs trying to find a fax machine to send pages back to Kyle, our publisher. Our treat was a seafood gastronomic, the French waitress was extremely impressed to watch, my brother and I, sit and slowly eat the whole platter!

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 .

December at Jekka’s Herb Farm

It has been a very busy few weeks putting the herb farm to bed for December.

The weather forecast is apparently going to give us a bit of everything in an over blown way and today has been no exception. We have had hail, rain, gales and now sunshine. However the morning sunrises on many occasions this month have been inspiring, this was one of my favourites.

In the kitchen I have been making Xmas presents for friends and family.  My Mirto, that I started in late October,  is maturing well. The recipe was in our last  News Letter in case you missed it.

I am going to strain it in the next few days, then add the sugar. So it should just be ready to toast in  the New Year.

So may we wish you all a very happy, warm, safe Christmas and a wonderful, peaceful New Year and we look forward to seeing you at  Jekka’s Herb Farm in 2012, our Silver Jubilee year.

Picture of Dipsacus fullonum, Fullers Teasel