In the lead up to the Farm’s Silver Jubilee celebration, we have all been reflecting back on the last 25 years, which for me has been my childhood growing up on the nursery. The Herb farm has naturally evolved at the same rate that my brother Alistair and I have grown up, and we have shared every step along the way.
Our Back garden in Filton, 1985
It all started as a hobby in our back garden at our semi-detached house in Filton, Bristol. There is only 18 months between my brother and I, so Jekka (mum) decided to give up work to look after us. It was only natural for Jekka to invest time making our family a herb garden, as her mother and grandmother were passionate cooks whom used lots of herbs in their dishes. As toddlers, we spent a lot of time in the garden beside her, digging up our her seedlings and putting all sorts of things into our mouths, fortunately we have always been organic from the very start.
Many of Jekka’s friends use to raid our herb garden, for Tarragon or Lemon Thyme, depending on what fashionable recipe they were trying to re-create that evening. Jekka started to grow herbs in pots for them to take home. I remember pots of herbs all over the house and on any spare surface, in the conservatory, up the stairs and in the bathroom. It soon became obvious that we needed more space, so in 1987, we moved to Rose Cottage and the start of the business, as we know it today, really began.
Rose Cottage was a derelict blacksmiths cottage on 2 acres of land. We all lived in a mobile home for two years whilst we made half of the house inhabitable. It was a picture of the good life, plus two toddlers and a hyperactive border collie called Ben, who loved to chase the swallows. And just to add a further complication, Jekka also had her right arm in plaster, as a local farmer had enthusiastically swung her across a barn at a local barn dance. Alistair and I spent most of our time outside, having many pirate adventures. Our dad, Mac, helped us build Dens and Tree houses, with the pallets from the compost deliveries, all over the farm and in our over grown orchard.
Our first Poly Tunnel at Rose Cottage, 1987
We also had many adventures on the road. With two child seats strapped in beside her, Jekka would travel around selling her herbs to local shops and local garden centres in the South-West of England and South Wales. Alistair and I, always wanting to help, would carry one plant each, whilst Jekka would carry in trays. We would always be singing and making up songs. We had one song in particular – ‘ We are the champions’ by Queen, it was not for several years that I discovered that my mum had not in fact made up this song, it was quite a disappointment to discover that it was well known.
In 1991, we exhibited for the very first time at Bath Flower show. Jekka had designed a silver snail, for which we were awarded a silver medal. Alistair and I were her sales assistants and would be stood on a box to make ourselves look taller, proudly repeating all of Jekka’s stories about herbs to the public. We were fashioned with white baseball caps with the herb farm logo hand painted on in green fabric paint, so that people knew whom we belonged to, especially useful when we went off on our explorations.
It was through exhibiting at Bath Flower show that Jekka gained her confidence to exhibit her herbs at the RHS Flower Shows. In 1993, they built their first island exhibit, at Bath, and were awarded a large gold medal. This boded well, as a month later Jekka and Mac drove to London in our small white van and with our neighbour’s horsebox, to build their first Chelsea Flower show display. I had just started Secondary school and Alistair was in his final year of Primary school. Our dad would pick us up direct from school on the Tuesday evening and drive us straight to London. In those days, Jekka borrowed a caravan and was camping in Battersea Park. We would change into our ‘posh’ clothes in the caravan and then catch the red double-decker bus to the bullring entrance, where Jekka would be waiting to walk us to her display. For our first Chelsea exhibit, we were awarded a silver-guilt medal. After all the excitement we would be bundled back into the car, full of sleeping bags and pillows, clothed in our pyjamas, to be driven back to Bristol so that we could go to school the next day. This tradition continued for the next 7 years whilst we were in school.
Our first RHS Chelsea Flower Show exhibit, 1993
That same year, we exhibited at the first RHS Hampton Court Flower show and were awarded our first RHS Gold medal, for our Thyme sundial. I am extremely proud to say that we only ever won Gold medals at Hampton court and have named our Golden Retriever, Hampton, after the show.
Geoff Hamilton talking to camera on our Hampton Court stand.
It was a very busy year for Jekka as she was also writing her first book ‘Jekka’s Complete Herb Book,’ which is still in print and on its second edition. We were now living in half of the cottage whilst we were converting the other half. Our main living area was also the kitchen, dining room, sitting room and mum’s office. We would be watching Blue Peter, with Jekka sat behind us typing and Mac sat at the kitchen table working on the accounts. In the evenings, I would fall asleep to the sounds of Eric Clapton as mum continued to write all night.
That summer, we all went camping in Brittany. As with most camping holidays it rained a lot. During this holiday Jekka and Mac both had to proof read the book. We would have big adventures, similar to Famous Five, walking along the cliffs trying to find a fax machine to send pages back to Kyle, our publisher. Our treat was a seafood gastronomic, the French waitress was extremely impressed to watch, my brother and I, sit and slowly eat the whole platter!