Hampton Court Thyme (making loose with the Purple Loosestrife)

It’s just a few days until Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – where does the Thyme go? To the flower show of course. Specifically Thymus ‘Lemon Curd’, Lemon Curd Thyme, Thymus ‘Fragrantissimus’, Orange Scented Thyme and Thymus vulgaris, Garden Thyme, to name but a few of the 20 odd thyme varieties that will be winging their way up the M4 this weekend.

A quick glance outside, and all is serene and beautiful, aromatic and immensely peaceful, exactly as you’d imagine an organic herb farm to be..

Achillea 'Gold Plate' glowing in the peace of a summertime herb farm

..but part the Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ AGMAchillea ‘Gold Plate’ and the Lythrum salicaria, Purple Loosestrife, and you’ll find a hive of busy people, pruning, clipping, watering, feeding and finally manhandling the herbs onto trolleys to be loaded up for Hampton Court.

All hands to the herbs & Jekka making loose with the Purple Loosestrife

Jekka’s been buzzing about in the  ‘Shade tunnel’, mocking up her corner plot organic herbs display, to inspire show visitors – yes, you will definitely want to do this at home. It’s just beautiful. We can’t give away too much just yet – you’ll have to come along and have a look for yourself (or see our next blog post, post-Hampton Court). But there will be a Galega officinalis, French Lilac arch – otherwise known as ‘Goats Rue’ although this sounds more like a regretful ruminant, than the racemes of white/mauve flowers which drape gracefully over the pergola. Flanked on either side by Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ AGM, Golden Hop, the archway leads to a dreamy vista of Salvia sclareaClary Sage, Bishops Flower and Papaver rhoeas, Field Poppies.

Clary Sage, Borage, Purple Loosestrife, Field Poppies, Hops, Chamomile

Clary Sage, Borage, Purple Loosestrife, Field Poppies, Golden Hop, Chamomile

As well as these beauties, we’re taking over a hundred different herb varietes to the show, including cut-and-come-again herb salad pots, which are on special offer for the show, and just a few of these absolutely stunning Tanacetum parthenium ‘Santana’Feverfew Santana

Feverfew Santana - available at our stand (PK246). First come, first served..adored by our herb farm customers and bees and butterflies. We can't grow this plant quickly enough, so we have a limited supply available at the show - first come, first served. As well as the herbs, we'll have seeds and Jekka's signed books, including her latest 'Jekka's Herb Cookbook (at a special Hampton-Court-Treat-price of £20, saving £5)'.Come and smell. Jekka's Herb Farm will be at stand PK246, near the Long Water, July 5th - 10th.

P.S. If you’re not going to Hampton Court Flower Show this year, you can always pop along to our next Open Days, 22-24th July instead.


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?

Herb Garden Cutbacks

June: you’re expecting the fragrant smell of freshly mown grass and the warmth of the sunshine on your back, the drone of busy bees, perhaps a dip in the English Channel if you’re really brave (or daft, or very well insulated). But it’s definitely chilly for June and there’s not much doing on the sunbathing front. Luckily, there is plenty to occupy you in the herb garden (so much more satisfying and beneficial than roasting your skin).

The farm is looking beautiful, and cooler weather at this time of year can help to prolong the flowering period, especially if you’re conscientious with your dead-heading.  We’ve had a drop of rain (at last) and a glimmer of sunshine, and the herbs are happy. There’s so much in flower right now that our next Open Day visitors are in for an absolute treat in a week’s time.

Jekka's Herb Farm in early June 2011

Wandering the hardstanding and polytunnels is an aromatic, sensory feast at this time of year but it doesn’t happen by chance alone. Jekka and the team are always constantly watering, weeding and feeding, propagating, potting and pruning. This is no time to rest on your laurus nobilis in the herb garden. For example, these Santolina, Cotton Lavenders ‘Primrose Gem‘ and ‘Small-Ness‘ look stunning right now…

Cotton Lavenders, 'Primrose Gem'...and 'Small-Ness'

..but once they’ve finished flowering, it’s essential to cut them back to maintain the attractive, bushy shape and good health of the plant. These elegant, aromatic evergreens,  a popular choice for Elizabethan knot gardens,  love a sunny spot and, preferably, a sandy soil.  If your soil is clay, then you’ll need to break it up with a good dose of horticultural grit and organic mulch – or plant in a pot.

The same goes for Lavandula, Lavender. Keep Lavender (and this goes for both the hardier varieties like Lavender Folgate

Lavender Folgate, happy as can be

and the less hardy species such as Lavender Willow Vale) at its happiest, by planting in well drained soil in a sunny spot, and once it’s finished flowering, trim back (but NEVER into the old wood – this would be tantamount to murder). You may get a second flowering later on (and dry those flower trimmings for lavender sachets, sorbets, sugar flavouring, herb pillows and soothing scented baths).

Then there’s TLC for the summer salad herbs like ‘Sir Basil‘ as Jekka refers to this somewhat self important herb who must be watered in the morning but not in the evening please, as he hates going to bed with wet roots (understandable) – he also loves the summer sun, but protection from the midday sun (fussy).

Coriander also prefers an early tipple, and is happiest in a semi shady spot – if it’s left in full sunshine, the chances are it will bolt, flower and go to seed before you’ve even had the chance to make your Mexican Enchiladas (see Jekka’s Herb Cookbook), ditto Dill, ditto Salmon, Dill and Potato Soup.

Once these edible annual herbs finish flowering (and there are many – Amaranth, Golden Mustard , Salad Rocket, Mexican Tree Spinach – you’ll have to do a search on our website for the rest because life’s too short), if you let them, they’ll very often set seed and pop up again next spring when you least expect it – Red Orach, for example, is a prolific self seeder.

Red Orach - prolific self seeder

It does look  striking in the garden, and the young leaves can be used in salads (wilt the more mature ones like spinach), but if you don’t want a gardenful next year then either collect the flowerheads quickly or don’t plant it in the first place!

Anyway, must get back to cutting back. Come along to our next Open Days, 17th-19th June, when, if you’d like some more advice, we’ll happily chat all-things-herbs with you all day long!

Bee happy

Summertime, and the bees are buzzing, the butterflies are flitting, the hoverflies are, well, hovering and the herbs are looking, tasting and smelling wonderful! A drop of sunshine on the leaves brings the oils to the surface, and the aroma is literally sensational – makes your mouth water. Then there’s the flowers, full with nectar, enticing a host of most welcome lodgers to the farm.

Bee on a Borage flower

We’re big on bees, beneficial insects and biodiversity (which simply means the diversity of all the living things around us). Bees and butterflies are necessary for pollination, and by providing them with a natural habitat in which to thrive, we are not just doing our bit to keep the planet happy, but we are actually helping to increase our yields. Increasing biodiversity in the garden is common sense really.

Hence our Soil Association organic status, and peat-free  growing. We grow a lot of Butterfly & Bee herbs, and now that the herb farm’s in flower, it’s just buzzing!

Thyme for a Bumble (Woolly Thyme)

Bee-autiful lavender (Ashdown Forest)

Bees particularly love blue and violet colours, so borage, catmintcornflower, echium, flax,  lavender and polemonium bee-come  magnets. For more butterfly, bee and beneficial insect herbs,  Search on our website, and under the dropdown list, ‘Uses’, choose ‘Biodiversity’…and get your garden buzzing!