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.

 

Amazing, cantankerous, Basil!

One of the special herbs of the summer is Basil. It can quite literally transform a meal into a feast and a drink into an elixir !

Bountiful Basil

Bountiful Basil
Photograph © Jekka

It is however one of the most cantankerous plants to grow in our ever changing climate.  Quite simply it hates going to bed wet and cold.  So the best way to grow it is in containers which should then be positioned against a south facing wall.  This way you will protect it from the winds, it will benefit from the warmth of the wall and it will be protected from getting drenched in the rain.  For any plant that is grown against a wall is approximately 25% drier than growing it in the open ground.

There are now so many varieties of Basil available, from Ocimum basilicum ‘Napolitano’ with it’s large lettuce leaf to the delectable Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’, which has exquisite lemon flavoured and scented leaves,

Mrs Burns Basil Photograph ©Jekka
Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

and the spicy Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ from Mexico .

Cinnamon Basil Photograph ©Jekka

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

Whichever you choose the flowers are also edible and will taste very similar to the leaves.  The cinnamon basil flowers are wonderful scattered over couscous or a rice salad.

Basil is immensely versatile in the kitchen and is renowned for use in salads,  however it is also brilliant for making sorbets, biscuits and wonderful cocktails.

Just recently at the HerbFest in London I was introduced to Basil Blossom cocktail.

Basil Blossom cocktail

Basil Blossom cocktail

I have subsequently made my own Lemon Basil cocktail.

Lemon Basil syrup.                                                                                                                         200 gm granulated sugar,  250 ml water, roughly one handful of lemon basil   (preferably Mrs Burns). Place the water, basil leaves and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, bring to the boil. Cover, leave to infuse for 5 mins. Pour into a container with a lid. Refrigerate once cold.   This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks, it is immensely useful not only for making cocktails but also with fruit dishes.

Lemon Basil Cocktail                                                                                                             3-4 leaves of lemon Basil,   zest of one washed lemon,   40ml white rum,    the juice of one lemon,  30ml lemon basil syrup,   soda water to top up.                         In a tall glass, add the lemon zest and the basil leaves. Using a spoon, crush and mix them together so that the basil leaves are bruised which will release the essential oils.  Fill the glass with crushed ice, mixing as you go with the basil leaves and lemon zest.      Either using a cocktail shaker or a sealed container  add the rum, lemon juice and basil syrup, shake together, then pour over the crushed ice, top up with the soda water.  Serve with a slice of lemon and some basil leaves.   Enjoy.

The Herboretum and Herb Farm will be open on the following dates, 28th June, 5th July and 12th July. Entry is free and we will have the wonderful  Mrs Burns and Cinnamon Basil for sale.

‘The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry’.

The weather has been playing havoc, not just here , but all over the UK.  I have been professionally growing herbs for over 30 years and I have never known a spring like it.  It is not just the cold winds and  the unseasonable weather it is also the low light level which is equally detrimental making seed germination erratic and slow.

Because of this unseasonably cold weather we have had to adapt our plans over the past week. It all started with Plan A  = plant the  Herboretum,

Luma collection

Luma, Chilean Myrtle,  collection

But with the change in the weather we then moved to Plan B = collect plants for Herboretum but do not plant as weather is too cold.

Thyme Collection

52 different thymes.

That did not work as it the wind chill got even colder so we adopted Plan C = make lists of plants which need to be collected for Herboretum.

Having finished collecting and making lists we  moved on to Plan D = make more labels for the Herboretum

Labels for Herboretum

Today the wind chill has become so cold -7C,  with a forecast for later in the week of -9C, that we had to implement Plan E =  cover the young  the plants that are already planted to protect them from the cold wind.

Covered plants

We open on Friday 29th March, regardless of the weather, with a little help from our friends who, despite the cold, came and helped us paint the old potting shed for our first Herb Friday.

Our friends painting

Having become a weather watcher I note, as I write this blog, that they say that on Saturday 30th March it will be 13C ! We wait and see with fingers crossed that the weather will turn a day earlier . Even though we cannot guarantee the weather there will be a warming cup of tea or coffee  and home made cakes; as well as some glorious herbs that have kindly decided to put their heads above the soil.

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

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.