Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co

LEMON GRASS

Mention Lemon Grass, Cymbopogon citratus, and it immediately conjures up the aromas and magic of the East.   Here in the UK only the stems are available from supermarkets for use in the kitchen.

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Lemon Grass Stems

It was not until I started growing Lemon Grass at the Herb Farm that I discovered how amazingly useful and flavoursome the leaves are both in the kitchen and for herbal remedies.

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass leaf

Lemon Grass is indigenous to Southeast Asia. Records show that the Persians were using it as a tea in the first century BC.  The first time I drank it as a herbal tea was when I visited Malaysia, it was served cold, which was surprising, but once drunk, one realised that it was a truly refreshing drink that cleared the palate and helped one unwind after a long journey.

All of us at Jekka’s Herb farm are extremely excited that we have joined forces with the Canton Tea Co to launch a range of Herb infusions, one of which is Lemon Grass.

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Lemon Grass tea from Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea Co.

Canton Tea are very resourceful at sourcing their teas and this is no exception.  I was very pleased to receive from them the following photographs which depicts  the Lemon Grass plantation at the Amba estate in Sri Lanka

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Amba Estate Sri Lanka

and not only shows the immense care that is taken in growing it organically but also how carefully it is harvested.

About 50% of the crop is rejected after sorting.

Harvesting lemon Grass

Once harvested the grass is cut by hand, which takes time, but ensures a beautiful product. So you can be assured that this is the best Lemon Grass tea you will have ever drunk.

Hand cutting

Hand cutting lemon grass

This herbal tea is immensely beneficial, it is a weak sedative and a stomach and gut relaxant, so it is ideal for drinking after a meal. It is also a good antidepressant and helps lift the spirits especially when one is in a bad mood.  But whatever your mood I can guarantee it will tantalize your taste buds and lift your spirits.

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

It’s that Thyme of the year.

I am a real sucker when it comes to thyme plants.  I can be found at plant fairs hunting them out, as others hunt truffles.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  They can vary in scent from wonderful spicy orange and a herby lemon to a pungent pine.  The leaves can vary from large and round to long and thin, or even woolly.  I defy any one not to want them in the garden especially when they are in flower.  Historically they have been used medicinally since Assyrian times, which was at the end of the second millennium BC.  Current research has shown Thymus vulgaris arrest the ageing process and is very beneficial in the treatment of stomach ulcers.

My collection has expanded over the past two decades to over  50 different thyme varieties and it is at this time of year they look so beautiful.

The best culinary thymes  in my opinion are, Orange scented, Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Broad leaf thyme, Thymus pulegioides, Golden lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Golden Lemon’, Lemon thyme, Thymus ‘Culinary Lemon’ and French thyme, Thymus vulgaris ‘French’

If I had to just choose one it would be the broad leaved thyme as this is so useful with its large leaves that can be used whole or chopped, roasted with vegetables,

Thymus pulegioides

used in marinades, or infused in water then added to the bath to ease my aching muscles.

The  creeping varieties  are wonderful for bees and butterflies and spread delightfully over gravel and rocks. Here are just four to inspire you.

My top tip for growing thymes is to cut them back after flowering, this encourages the plant to put on new growth which helps to protect them from the vagaries of the winter.

We will be taking a lovely selection of Thymes to  this  years RHS Hampton Court , 2nd-8th July, where I am going to create a small herb garden that you will be able to walk through.  This will be situated down by the Rose Marquee site number TH/5   and near the Thames entrance.  Look forward to seeing you there.

Nine days at the Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower show started off in style.  Myrtle our tiny black cat decided that she would stow away in the lorry and see what all the fuss was about .  Being  such a timid cat we were amazed that she went. Luckily Carol, who was helping with the deliveries to the Show gardens, spotted her running out of our lorry into the Alitex glasshouse, at least she has good taste.

She is now safely home showing off about her adventure.

Friday 18th May, we left for the show wearing thermals and coats.  We returned late on Saturday night, 26th May, wearing thin shirts ,thin trousers and dark glasses.  What a difference in a week.

Having delivered all the plants to the show gardens I was very eager to see what the garden designers had done with our prize babies but, before  I could have the pleasure of seeing them, we had to ‘Crack on’  and build our own display.

Sunday,  after we finished our display and our stand I went into the great floral pavilion to start my assessing of the floral exhibits as I had the honour of chairing the judging.  The exhibits were stunning, even more so this year, considering the weather.

Monday  is Press, Judging and Royal visit.   We had our fair share of visitors, I was very pleased to see Ringo again and touched that he took the time to find us.

I asked him how the plants he had bought from our 2009 exhibit were fairing.  He enthusiasticiy told me  where and how he had planted them, proving that he is a great gardener.  Talking of great gardeners I was thrilled to see Penelope Hobhouse.

She has known me since I was a child and has always given me good  sound advice, which I treasure.

After chairing the judging I had the pleasure of show Prince Michael of Kent around the show. This was followed  by the President of the RHS presenting me to her Majesty the Queen  during the evening reception, which was a wonderful,  especially in this Diamond Jubilee year, and a lovely way to end a very special day.

Tuesday, results day and the gates open to the RHS members. The L’Occitane en Provence garden

won a deserved gold medal which was justice to Peter Dowle, Angie and their team  who had worked so hard to pull this off.

Some days before the show Tom Hoblyn, who was creating the Arthritis research UK garden, visited the Herb Farm to check on his plants and saw my large Angelica. He rang his good friend Andy Sturgeon, who was designing the M&G garden, as he knew he was missing a large specimen plant for his garden.

Don’t they look splendid.  This garden won a deserved gold medal.

Wednesday, our new seed collections , designed by Hannah McVicar were selling incredibly well, especially the Edible Flowers, which was very exciting so much so that we had to ring back to the farm for more .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the early evening I was invited to open the Edible and Useful garden at the Chelsea Physic Garden. This was a huge honour and a privelage.

My great aunt took me to see this garden many, many years ago when it truly was London’s best kept secret garden.  Today it is one of the best havens in a never sleeping city.

Thursday, before the show opened Jamie Oliver visited to see the show .

It was great to see him looking so well despite his punishing schedule, as I know he had only just returned from the USA.

Also up bright and early that morning was Cleve West, the designer of The Brewin Dolphin garden , sweeping up the plane tree blosom which was falling like snow, making us all cough and our eyes stream. He not only did this, he also did the majority of the watering, proving that he is a true gardener not just a designer.

This garden won the Best in Show, it was a stunningly beautiful garden.

Friday, the heat on our stand had been proving horrendous, we were, according to my phone, 34C, but kindly Mac, with the fresh supply of seed, also brought up a fan to cool us down.  So we were back to being human.

It was lovely to see so many people enthusastic about growing plants from seed.

Saturday The final day and it ended on a true high note.  We had grown loads of plants for Tom Hoblyn, who created the Arthritis research UK garden. It had been awarded a silver gilt medal,  so we were, with him and his team, feeling a bit low. But…..

the public know better and gave it ‘The People Choice’, which was simply brilliant. An accolade to him and his team for all their hard work.

Next week, hopefully, I will blog about the true stars of this magnificent show, THE PLANTS. To whet your appetite here are a few in the Arthritis Research UK’s garden.