‘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!!!

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.

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.

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 .