Follow Nature, now is the ideal time to sow seeds.

As summer draws to a close,  not only is it the time to harvest seeds, it is also the ideal time to sow seeds as the soil is  beautifully warm.  By sowing now, either direct into a prepared space in the garden or into a pot,  which is positioned against south facing wall or in a cold green house,  you will have herbs that you can harvest throughout the winter months that will help you transform a meal into a feast .

One of the best is Parsley, both Curly, Petroselinum crispum  and Flat leaved French, Petroselinum cripsum French

PP25 Petroselinum crispum-2By sowing now it will germinate in approximately 10-14 days.  The seedlings will not be hassled by carrot fly and, once established, the plants will withstand frosts. After  a frost they do look rather sad, but very quickly they perk back ready for use in the kitchen.

Another indispensable herb is  Winter Purslane, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata.  This is a wonderful cut and come again herb that adds fresh succulent leaves to salads throughout the winter months.

PC24 leaf

September is also an ideal month for sowing Chervil,  Anthriscus cerefolium. This will also produce an abundant crop for use through the winter months.  In temperatures below -8c it is advisable to cover in a cloche.

PA33 leaf landscape

Some seeds are far better sown fresh because, if delayed until the spring, they will need ‘stratification’,  frost, or putting in the fridge to trigger germination.   Angleica, Angleica archangelica, is one of these herbs.

PA29 Angleica seed head-2

If the fresh seed is sown now, into a seed tray or pots,  it will take only 14-21 days to germinate and the seedlings will withstand all the vagaries of the weather, but will need protecting from ‘Denis’, our blackbird, and the pesky mice.

‘If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.’  Confucius

***END OF SEASON HERB PLANT SALE ***SEPTEMBER  20th &21st           10am – 4pm.   Herb Teas, Tea, Coffee and home made cakes available.

 

Spring Herb Watch

As we reach March, despite the cold wind, the signs of spring are now quite apparent.  The days are slowly getting longer,  the birds are singing beautifully.   Every morning and every evening I am accompanied, as a walk  around the farm, by the most beautiful song thrush whom I am pleased to say has a follower or friend near by.  Their song is so breath taking it makes me stop, listen and marvel .

Everyday  I can see  the signs of spring. The seeds of nasturtiums that I sowed  back in November are really beginning to grow away and flourish, they should be ready in time to adorn our retail stand at the RHS Chelsea which, as it is again situated on the main avenue,  has to look spectacular.  The French Tarragon that I bought into the glasshouse to  bring on so that I could start cuttings early is ready.

Photograph taken on 10.2.13

In our unheated tunnels  many herbs are growing well.  This Spanish mint has not been put off by the cold, grey  weather and  it is ready for picking to make a refreshing cup of tea or a mint sauce to accompany a  lovely English or Welsh lamb chop.  This mint is part of  our mint collection and will be able to be seen in the Herboretum at our Herb Fridays, when you will also be able to buy herb plants. 

Spanish Mint

The true signs that spring is on the way is in the garden,  many herbs are just begging to  emerge, chives, mint and  this buckler leaf sorrel  which can even be gently picked to add  a zing to a winter salad, or pep up a green sauce.

IMG_6566So, with spring in the air, it is time to get sowing, get potting and get outside.

It is 7 weeks until the first official day of spring.

It is officially only 7 weeks until the first day of spring, so I thought I would inspire you to grow some new herbs this year because herbs are the one collection of plants that can transform a meal into a feast.   Simply imagine tossing some Chive flowers, Wild rocket, chopped French parsley, amazing red Pak Choi,

some wonderful crunchy Purslane, and some hot spicy Mustard leaves with some Lettuce and you have a salad to whet all palates.

To me herbs fulfil everything one needs in a garden; they  look good, taste good and do you good, what more can you ask of a plant?

Herb garden June

Gardening for the table in landscape terminology is short term gardening.  It allows the gardener to experiment.  It also allows the gardener to be optimistic, for there is ‘always next year’.  So by even growing a pot of herbs on a windowsill or some rows of rocket in a container, it connects what you eat to the process of growing.  That growing process starts from the soil which is the engine of all gardening, be it in a container or a garden plot.   So for those of you who wish to grow your herbs in a window box or container it is well worth investing in a good potting compost .

French Tarragon

When growing plants in containers it is also worth investing in a good liquid fertiliser so that you can regularly feed your herbs.   Why feed the  plants?   Well, this is because the plant will quickly use all the nutrients and minerals from the potting compost and, to keep your herbs productive and healthy when grown in a container, you need to supplement their feed.

If the thought of Spring has inspired you I will be running a Propagation day course for 12 people at the Herboretum on April 6th and April 20th and a Herb garden design day course for 14 people on April 13th and May 4th .  And for those of you in the UK with eagle eyes the first ten of you to email the herb farm  with your postal address will be sent 3 packets of seeds, with our complements, to start your spring sowing.

Relentless Optimism, sowing the seeds for 2013

I love early winter, the light levels are still good, the warmth is still in the soil and the seed harvest is finally in.  I now look forward to sitting inside in the warmth, cleaning the seed  so making it easier to sow.

I never ceased to be amazed by the ingenuity and beauty of seeds.

Szechuan pepper – Zanthoxylum simulans

Talking of 2013 I have already started sowing the seeds for early flowering.  The germination has been very good.

Cornflower – Centaurea cyanus

These Cornflowers took a mere 5 days to germinate using a bottom heat of 15C .  I have now removed them from the heat.  They will grow on in the greenhouse until spring has truly arrived.  Hopefully they will be ready and in flower for our display at the 100 th Chelsea flower Show where we will be launching our new Herboretum.   I know the tickets for this  truly amazing show are now on sale, being that it is the 100 th Chelsea can I suggest that if you are thinking of coming you get a ticket soon.

Painted Sage – Salvia viridis

These Painted Sage, one of my favourite annuals, also germinated quickly and I am 90% certain they will be a show stopper next year . Here, as a reminder  of the beauty of this sage, is  a photograph I took in the early summer.

On a positive note,  for those of you who do not enjoy the winter months, it is only 16 weeks until the 1st of March!

Print from a paper cut created by Rose Vickers one of the Jamaica Street Artists

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’

The proverbial British weather Part 2.

The weather has, to put it concisely, been mind focusing. On wednesday 2nd February

it was Candlemas day, in the USA it is called Ground Hog Day.  There are numerous sayings regarding Candlemas ; ‘If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another fight. If Candlemas day brings cloud and rain, Winter won’t come again.’ and ‘If Candlemas day is bright and clear there will be two winters in the year’.  As you are probably all aware it was bright and clear!!!

Today as I sit here writing this  blog watching the snow flakes silently settle

I am pondering where we are going to put next weeks potting. So all you gardeners, who do not have a glasshouse or warm propagation house,  close up your sheds, put away your hoes, get the gardening books out and wait. Your turn will come in March and then you will be running to make up time.

Despite the weather  it  been full steam ahead  on the herb farm , potting up and sowing seeds .

 All the newly potted stock has been placed under horticultural fleece  to keep it warm.  While we have been doing that Hannah,  Annabel and Graham, our web guru,  have been putting the finishing touches to our new website.

It looks great and I especially like the seed section in the on line shop as Graham and Hannah have magically transferred my information into simple clear graphics, so you can see at a glance when to sow the seed,where to sow, under cover or in the garden, and when to harvest.

So please visit it next week when it should go live!  and do let us know what you think and more importantly if you find any snags.

The proverbial British weather.

I love clear frosty mornings,

 

not only does the sun lift your spirit, the birds sing, the air is clear and you know that any aphid that is silly enough to have thought spring was on the way has been given a shock.

On the other hand I know that the grey, dank, gloomy days one can get in January and February are, to use a wonderful word, lugubrious .  It is on those days that working in the glasshouse can lift your spirits, as there is nothing more inspiring than seeing seedlings emerging.

Also, when I take a tea break in the afternoon, I top up my good mood with a cup of 3pm tea, the sheer warmth and aroma of the peppermint warms the cockles of one’s heart.

I can hear you all muttering that I am having a senior moment, well may be, but seriously there is nothing more inspiring than raising plants.  So top tip for the next few weeks, prepare some plug trays or a small pot, fill with seed compost, water in well, then sow the herb seeds of your choice, cover with perlite, not vermiculite. For those that don’t know the difference, perlite is the white light product and does not hold water

and vermiculite is the beige product that does hold water.  Only water again if you find that the compost is drying out and, if it is a salad herb, the seed will sprout within a week.  At that point it is crucial not to over water.  So a good tip is to water in the morning before you leave for work, not at night so that the seedlings do not go to bed wet.

Happy sowing.