‘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.

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!!!

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 .

June Open Days – nipping out for a sniff and a rub between downpours

Mostly, we’re very grateful for a drop of rain in summer: the herbs love the combination of wet and warmth,  and we love it because it reduces our daily task of quenching the thirst of 650+ herb varieties.

However, sunshiny days are infinitely preferable when opening up the farm and inviting people along for an enjoyable meander through the herbs.  The Friday and Saturday of our June Open Days were a bit wet for a lengthy amble amongst the aromas, but, happily, this didn’t deter our fabulous, die-hard, herb loving visitors and we were delighted to welcome back many regulars as well as many new visitors to the farm.

Ominous sky..but enough blue for a pair of sailor's trousers?

The weather forecast was pretty dreadful, but our visitors are made of sterner stuff

Nipping out for a sniff and a rub between downpours

Jekka’s farm tour became a herb talk in a warm, dry, aromatic polytunnel and our wonderful caterers, Berry Blue, had their busiest event at the farm ever – when the rain came down, everyone headed for the food marquee, where herby feasts and a hot mug of herb tea braced them for their next expedition outside.

Jekka's herb talk in the dry, aromatic polytunnel, and a very helpful young man

Jekka’s herb workshop was all about ‘How to take herb cuttings’, and she was delighted to make the acquaintance of her youngest pupil, Millie, who demonstrated great potential of becoming a future ‘Queen of Herbs’. Jekka’s next (pre-bookable) herb workshops (22nd – 24th July, 12pm) will tell you all you need to know about growing your own  salad herbs for autumn.

Millie (left) demonstrates her new skill - taking herb cuttings

Happily, Sunday dawned (and remained) much brighter, and visitors could take their time to enjoy the scents and arouse their senses. Jekka gave an outdoor herb talk to visitors, who learned that herbs in containers, such as Bay, won’t survive on love alone – they need a weekly feed at this time of year – we use liquid seaweed; that ‘Sir Basil‘ doesn’t like to be watered after midday; that Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and thyme must have very good drainage to thrive, and that herbs in flower now, such as lavender and thyme, should be cut back after flowering to promote plant health and maintain good shape. It was actually warm enough for her audience to sit back and soak up some most welcome sunny rays.

Soaking up some herb learning

The rain rarely deters open day visitors, who are often as nuts about organically grown herb plants as we are. But we would appreciate (please, please, please?)  some warm, dry days from 5th – 10th July, when we’ll be at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, and 22nd-24th July – our next Open Days. Fingers and fronds crossed.

All hands to the herbs!

Our gates will be wide open from 10am tomorrow morning, for our June Open Days – 17th, 18th & 19th June, 10 – 4.

There’s a wonderful atmosphere here today: Jekka, her husband Mac, and all the team, plus the guys putting up the catering tent, working towards a common goal – that is, to give our visitors the best possible experience of the farm over the next 3 days.

Berry-Blue food marquee in the making

We’re shifting quite a bit of stock about, so visitors can find the rare herb they’ve come especially to find, amongst our 650+ varieties. Shifting stock is akin to a good workout, but instead of sweaty gym odours, the herb aromas fill up your nostrils as you brush against them – it’s good, honest work with the added bonus of sense-ational smells!

Stock shifting

There are gaps to be filled with basils, lemon verbena, variegated myrtle, creeping lemon thyme and lavender Folgate. We’ve even got our very own herb farm BOGOFF corner – buy 3 and the cheapest is free (if Tesco’s can do it…!) – and a mouth watering selection of salad pots in the polytunnel (you’ll never want to buy a bag of leaves again).

Filling the gaps

Jekka’s preparing for her midday workshop on ‘how to take herb cuttings‘ (almost fully booked, but you can book up for the next workshop in July). And sussing out the route for her (free) herb farm tour, which may become a talk instead if lots of people turn up – it’s quite hard to make yourself heard amongst a long trail of people!

Meanwhile, someone’s just loving the activity, and the buzz, and making the most of the sunshine..

In doggy heaven

See you tomorrow at 10?