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!!!

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’

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 .

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.