Lovely Lumas , Chilean Myrtles

I have a huge love of the Myrtaceae family and  they are one of the many reasons that I started the Herboretum.

Luma display

Luma display

I have found that many gardeners know Myrtles but not Lumas and many  are confused as to which is which.  What is great about Lumas is that, whereas the Mediterranean Myrtle can be a little tender, the Chilean Luma is very hardy and has even adapted to my clay soil. Even though this year they have been crushed by snow, when everything else is taking time to recover, they are now looking lovely.

PL33 luma gleangleam in flower

Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM

Another plus that is, similar to Myrtle, if a branch does get broken  or the tips do get scorched you simply have to cut back  and the new growth will come from the old wood.

Luma apiculata AGM

Luma apiculata AGM, Chilean Myrtle

The Luma apiculata has the most attractive cinnamon bark as it matures and makes an ideal specimen evergreen plant within the herb garden.

PL75 Luma Nanum-2

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’ Dwarf Luma

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’, the dwarf luma, makes an ideal low hedge as it is very slow growing, it prefers a well drained slightly acidic  soil but will adapt to a well drained loam.

All Luma’s can be grown by the sea as their foliage is not damaged by salty water.

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, is the most robust of the Luma’s. It makes and ideal tall edging, hedging plant as it can be cut hard to keep it in shape.

In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews, but should be used sparingly. After flowering the Luma has a black fruit which, when cooked, makes a very interesting conserve, jelly, which is extremely good with game dishes. 

At our Herb Friday on the 19th April we will be offering 20% discount on all  Luma plants.

‘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.

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

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!!!

IT’S SHOW TIME

For the past twelve months we have been preparing for this years Chelsea Flower show.  We have been growing herbs for three show gardens,  the Arthritis Research UK garden designed by Tom Hoblyn,  the L’Occitane immortelle garden designed by Peter Dowle and the RCB Blue Water garden designed by  Nigel Dunnett and the Landscape agency. To say that it has been a difficult growing year would be an understatement.  The weather has been so unpredictable. So much so that, today , as I sit here writing this Blog, I have heard it is snowing in the north of England and we are forecast to have a frost tonight.

Here is my photographic diary of the key points of the final 5 months.

JANUARY

Seedlings in January

Germination of all the annuals in January was extremely good due to the excellent light levels.

FEBRUARY

everything was on schedule however  we had had very little rain.

MARCH

Horticultural fleece not only acts like a duvet to the young plants it also is a very good barrier for pests like carrot fly and flea beetle.

At the end of the month  we did the first ‘Chelsea chop’ of the nasturtium flowers, this was repeated weekly to prohibit them from setting seed which would stop them flowering.

APRIL

It rained, and rained and rained .  The low light levels inhibited growth, the flower bud which formed in March stood still and everyone felt miserable including Hampton.

However there were some high points at the end of the month.

These Melanoselinum were looking fantastic and, due to the cold weather,  I knew they would just hang on for the big event.

The red orach, sown in January, is spot on despite the weather and

this thyme was spot on with  flower and would be a show stopper.

MAY

The pressure is really on, we spend hours tidying the plants prior to delivery and  hoping that the key plants pop into flower.  The one giving me the most worry were the poppies, they have had lovely buds since the end of March but no flower, then a week before they were due to leave the flowers started to appear.

The week before the show opens we start delivering all the plants that we have grown to the respective gardens.

The weather was not kind, this was a very painful downpour of hail.

44 trolleys were loaded

3 long journeys to London expertly driven by Jim accompanied by Carol, and they were all safely delivered to the designers.

Today I start preparing for our stand at the show. We have been given a very prestigious site SW1, which fronts onto the Main avenue. The story of which will follow in the next Blog.

After a major tidy up of the herb farm we will start our preparations for Chelsea 2013 which will be the 100th Chelsea Flower show.  This I am sure will be another amazing epic in the history of the best flower show in the world.

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.

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citriodora

Now that the clocks have changed and the weather has transformed from winter to high spring over night,  it is the ideal time to prune your Lemon Verbena.

Be brave, cut back hard to just above a leaf bud or to where they will eventually form; they are easily visible on the stem.

By doing this now you will be rewarded with masses of new growth in the summer.

This will then give you masses of leaves too make  the wonderful tisane which is called ‘Verveine’ in France.

Alternatively you can make one my families favourites

Lemon Verbena Crème Brulee

My mother made the best crème brulee. Alistair, my son,  has inherited her passion for them and always rates restaurants and cooks on how well they make them. This is a wonderful recipe; the flavour with its hint of lemon sherbet makes this brulee very special.

Serves 4, Preheat Oven to 140°C/275F/gas mark 1

225ml milk

1 handful of lemon verbena leaves finely chopped, ( reserve 4 whole leaves for use as garnish)

7 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

60ml double cream

50g demerara sugar

Put the milk in a pan with the chopped lemon verbena leaves, bring to simmering point, remove from the heat and then leave to cool and infuse. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Add the cooled infused milk and cream, whisk well. Pass through a fine meshed sieve.  Ladle the mixture into 4 ramekin dishes and set them in a roasting pan. Pour in enough water to come three quarters the way up the side of the ramekins, pop into the pre heated oven and  cook for 1 hour or until set. Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and caramelise with either a blow torch or by putting them under a hot grill. Decorate with some fresh lemon verbena leaves.

Recipe taken from Jekka’s Herb Cook Book

Bon Appetite

All photographs and text are  © Jekka McVicar 2012.  Please do not use without permission.