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.

Spring Herb Watch

As we reach March, despite the cold wind, the signs of spring are now quite apparent.  The days are slowly getting longer,  the birds are singing beautifully.   Every morning and every evening I am accompanied, as a walk  around the farm, by the most beautiful song thrush whom I am pleased to say has a follower or friend near by.  Their song is so breath taking it makes me stop, listen and marvel .

Everyday  I can see  the signs of spring. The seeds of nasturtiums that I sowed  back in November are really beginning to grow away and flourish, they should be ready in time to adorn our retail stand at the RHS Chelsea which, as it is again situated on the main avenue,  has to look spectacular.  The French Tarragon that I bought into the glasshouse to  bring on so that I could start cuttings early is ready.

Photograph taken on 10.2.13

In our unheated tunnels  many herbs are growing well.  This Spanish mint has not been put off by the cold, grey  weather and  it is ready for picking to make a refreshing cup of tea or a mint sauce to accompany a  lovely English or Welsh lamb chop.  This mint is part of  our mint collection and will be able to be seen in the Herboretum at our Herb Fridays, when you will also be able to buy herb plants. 

Spanish Mint

The true signs that spring is on the way is in the garden,  many herbs are just begging to  emerge, chives, mint and  this buckler leaf sorrel  which can even be gently picked to add  a zing to a winter salad, or pep up a green sauce.

IMG_6566So, with spring in the air, it is time to get sowing, get potting and get outside.

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.

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.

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.