Follow Nature, now is the ideal time to sow seeds.

As summer draws to a close,  not only is it the time to harvest seeds, it is also the ideal time to sow seeds as the soil is  beautifully warm.  By sowing now, either direct into a prepared space in the garden or into a pot,  which is positioned against south facing wall or in a cold green house,  you will have herbs that you can harvest throughout the winter months that will help you transform a meal into a feast .

One of the best is Parsley, both Curly, Petroselinum crispum  and Flat leaved French, Petroselinum cripsum French

PP25 Petroselinum crispum-2By sowing now it will germinate in approximately 10-14 days.  The seedlings will not be hassled by carrot fly and, once established, the plants will withstand frosts. After  a frost they do look rather sad, but very quickly they perk back ready for use in the kitchen.

Another indispensable herb is  Winter Purslane, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata.  This is a wonderful cut and come again herb that adds fresh succulent leaves to salads throughout the winter months.

PC24 leaf

September is also an ideal month for sowing Chervil,  Anthriscus cerefolium. This will also produce an abundant crop for use through the winter months.  In temperatures below -8c it is advisable to cover in a cloche.

PA33 leaf landscape

Some seeds are far better sown fresh because, if delayed until the spring, they will need ‘stratification’,  frost, or putting in the fridge to trigger germination.   Angleica, Angleica archangelica, is one of these herbs.

PA29 Angleica seed head-2

If the fresh seed is sown now, into a seed tray or pots,  it will take only 14-21 days to germinate and the seedlings will withstand all the vagaries of the weather, but will need protecting from ‘Denis’, our blackbird, and the pesky mice.

‘If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.’  Confucius

***END OF SEASON HERB PLANT SALE ***SEPTEMBER  20th &21st           10am – 4pm.   Herb Teas, Tea, Coffee and home made cakes available.



‘A feast for your eyes’.

The skill of the chef is taking ingredients that when served not only taste amazing but they also look a picture on a plate.

The ingredients

The ingredients

It is easy to forget that we not only enjoy food using our taste and smell but we also eat with our eyes. One of the intentions of setting up Jekka’s Herboretum was to have a facility where Chefs could visit, taste the herbs, then cook with the herbs that took their fancy. The first time this happened was when three chefs from The Company of Cooks  came to visit us.


Claire, Justin and Chris

The herbs that caught the imagination were Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme

Fennel, Chicory, Bergamot, Savory and Thyme.

Savory, Fennel, Bergamot, Chicory and Thyme.

Justin Hammett, head chef at the Opera House, created this dish with Savory; he said it reminds him of his childhood, full of mediterranean warmth  with its pungent, peppery flavour. He created a simple dish of sliced onion, sliced potato and tomatoes sprinkled with the chopped leaves of Summer and Winter Savory and then all covered in a generous drizzle of good olive oil.  This he put into a preheated oven 175C for 40 mins.

Baked, tomato, onion , potato and savory.

Baked tomato, onion , potato and savory.

It was succulent, flavoured and delicious. This simple dish could be a light supper or served , for example with a rack of lamb.

While Justin was creating his dish, Chris Handley, who develops menus and meals for The Company of Cooks, made a wonderful fresh mackerel dish. The ingredients might be simple however it was inspirational to watch him rehearse the layout of the dish before putting it on the finished plate.  This approach was very similar to the way we rehearsed our floral displays before leaving to go to Malvern or Chelsea Flower Show.

Chris platting up

Chris rehearsing the layout.

This attention to detail makes the finished meal look a picture.

Chris composing his plate.

Chris composing his plate.

Claire Clark, who is renowned for her pastry and puddings, is a consultant working with The Company of Cooks.

Claire Clark

Claire Clark

The herbs of  her choice were thyme. lavender and heartsease. Her pudding was magical, not only in looks but in flavour; the contrast of the zesty lemon cake infused with thyme , sitting on sharp clean lemon curd with the light moorish lavender shortbread was excellent.

Lavender short bread

Lavender shortbread

The finish dish not only looked a picture it tasted absolutely fabulous.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

Claire puts the finishing touches to her perfect picture.

Amazing, cantankerous, Basil!

One of the special herbs of the summer is Basil. It can quite literally transform a meal into a feast and a drink into an elixir !

Bountiful Basil

Bountiful Basil
Photograph © Jekka

It is however one of the most cantankerous plants to grow in our ever changing climate.  Quite simply it hates going to bed wet and cold.  So the best way to grow it is in containers which should then be positioned against a south facing wall.  This way you will protect it from the winds, it will benefit from the warmth of the wall and it will be protected from getting drenched in the rain.  For any plant that is grown against a wall is approximately 25% drier than growing it in the open ground.

There are now so many varieties of Basil available, from Ocimum basilicum ‘Napolitano’ with it’s large lettuce leaf to the delectable Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’, which has exquisite lemon flavoured and scented leaves,

Mrs Burns Basil Photograph ©Jekka
Ocimum basilicum ‘Mrs Burns’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

and the spicy Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ from Mexico .

Cinnamon Basil Photograph ©Jekka

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’ basil
Photograph ©Jekka

Whichever you choose the flowers are also edible and will taste very similar to the leaves.  The cinnamon basil flowers are wonderful scattered over couscous or a rice salad.

Basil is immensely versatile in the kitchen and is renowned for use in salads,  however it is also brilliant for making sorbets, biscuits and wonderful cocktails.

Just recently at the HerbFest in London I was introduced to Basil Blossom cocktail.

Basil Blossom cocktail

Basil Blossom cocktail

I have subsequently made my own Lemon Basil cocktail.

Lemon Basil syrup.                                                                                                                         200 gm granulated sugar,  250 ml water, roughly one handful of lemon basil   (preferably Mrs Burns). Place the water, basil leaves and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, bring to the boil. Cover, leave to infuse for 5 mins. Pour into a container with a lid. Refrigerate once cold.   This syrup will keep in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks, it is immensely useful not only for making cocktails but also with fruit dishes.

Lemon Basil Cocktail                                                                                                             3-4 leaves of lemon Basil,   zest of one washed lemon,   40ml white rum,    the juice of one lemon,  30ml lemon basil syrup,   soda water to top up.                         In a tall glass, add the lemon zest and the basil leaves. Using a spoon, crush and mix them together so that the basil leaves are bruised which will release the essential oils.  Fill the glass with crushed ice, mixing as you go with the basil leaves and lemon zest.      Either using a cocktail shaker or a sealed container  add the rum, lemon juice and basil syrup, shake together, then pour over the crushed ice, top up with the soda water.  Serve with a slice of lemon and some basil leaves.   Enjoy.

The Herboretum and Herb Farm will be open on the following dates, 28th June, 5th July and 12th July. Entry is free and we will have the wonderful  Mrs Burns and Cinnamon Basil for sale.

2013 Chelsea Flower Show, Gnomes, Celebrities, Plants and Teas

The 100th Chelsea Flower Show will be certainly one to remember, the weather played havoc before we arrived and the Friday was the coldest wettest day that I have experienced in our history of the show, which is 21 years.  But despite the weather the flower show weaved it’s MAGIC.

BORAGE THE GNOME. Before the show opened Borage was in much demand as gnomes were being allowed at the Chelsea flower show for the very first time. Of course he went, but he behaved so  badly that we sent him gnome ( sorry!!!)

Borage and his friends at this year's Chelsea Flower Show

Borage and his friends at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show

SUNDAY is the final day of build up, hence the HiVis tops as the site is still considered to be a building site .  We finished our display and had a lovely time catching up with old friends such as Alan and Toby who were both busy recording with the BBC.

Sunday at Chelsea before the show opens

Sunday at Chelsea before the show opens

MONDAY Hannah dressed up in 1913 costume to celebrate the 100th Chelsea Flower Show, she looked amazing.  The launch of the new Jekka’s Herbs at Canton Tea  herb teas was a big success, everyone loved the Lemon Grass Tea.  It was great to be able to see and greet many old and new friends, especially  Toby who was the RHS Young School Gardener of the Year, a gardener of the future.

Monday at  the Chelsea Flower Show

Monday at the Chelsea Flower Show

TUESDAY  is the first official day of the show .  Nancy, known as the’ Lemon Verbena Lady’ in her blog, visited the show for the first time from the USA.  Vicki , like Hannah, also took the trouble to dress up in 1913 costume which was much appreciated by all of us and the visitors.   The borage that we started growing last November for Chelsea could be seen here in Adam Frost’s  garden ‘Sowing Seeds of Change’ which was awarded a worthy gold medal.

Tuesday at the Chelsea Flower show

Tuesday at the Chelsea Flower show

WEDNESDAY  Over the years that the Fleming’s have been exhibiting at the Chelsea show  we have become good friends. Wes Fleming informed us that sadly this would be their last exhibit.  So it was even more pleasing  that they finished with the award of Best Show Garden.

Fleming's nurseries the  Trailfinders Australian Garden awarded best Show Garden

Fleming’s nurseries the Trailfinders Australian Garden awarded best Show Garden

The Trailfinders Australian garden early in the morning.

The Trailfinders Australian garden early in the morning.

THURSDAY  Every year there is one herb that catches the attention, this year it was Nasturtium Alaska which behaved beautifully.

Nasturtium Alaska

Nasturtium Alaska

FRIDAY  We have been exhibiting at the Chelsea Flower show for 21 years and never have we known it to be so cold and wet all day.

Wet Friday

Wet Friday

The weather did not put off our good friends from Norway who enjoyed the show. 

Liv Ragnhild Lassen from Norway

Liv Ragnhild Lassen from Norway

SATURDAY The last day is always a mixture of feelings.  Glad to be going home, but sad that this beautiful show will have vanished and will only be preserved in photographs.  The people choice  went to  the the Arthritis Research UK garden by Chris Beardshaw.  This border filled with Sweet cicely , Myrrhis odorata was one of our favourites in the show. 

The Arthritis Research UK garden with Sweet Cicely . Myrrhis odorata

The Arthritis Research UK garden with Sweet Cicely,  Myrrhis odorata

Once the bell has been rung to signal the end of the show, the plants in the Great Pavillion and from our stand are sold.

The packing up of the stand

The packing up of the stand

Then, when everyone has left the site, we  pack up and wait for the lorries to come in to take everything back to the Herb Farm. While we wait we plan our stand for  next year’s Chelsea Flower Show which will have all the drama, beauty and magic that we have had this year`. 

And now it is time for our Herb Friday’s we are open every friday from May 31st until July 12th from 10am – 4pm when we look forward to showing you the Herboretum, the Herbs and  having a cup of our new herb tea with home made cakes.

Annual herbs at the Herboretum

Annual herbs at the Herboretum

Food for Free this April in the West Country

Spring has arrived after one of the longest winters that I can remember.  It is joyous to be able to walk along the  lane and around our field and find so many herbs that one can pick and eat just as our forefathers did.

A Peacock Butterfly supping nectar from Ground Ivy.

A Peacock Butterfly sipping nectar from Ground Ivy.

Here’s fine rosemary, sage and thyme.                                                                                         Come, buy my Ground Ivy.                                                                                                           Here’s featherfew, gilly flowers and rue.                                                                                     Come buy my knotted marjoram , too!                                                                                Roxburghe Ballads ( 1740-1804)

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea

In mediaeval times Ground Ivy was used to treat fevers and coughs .  Today the leaves are great with mushrooms or for making a lovely spring tisane.

Primrose was the first herb to appear this year in the garden.

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

Primrose, Primula vulgaris

As the weather had been so cold and grey it was wonderful to see these cheerful flowers.   The young leaves can be eaten as a salad or boiled as a pot herb. Traditionally the flowers were ground with rice,  almonds, honey and saffron to form a ‘Primrose pottage’.

Cowslip, Primula veris

Cowslip, Primula veris

When I was a child Cowslips were picked to make a wine.  Nowadays, due to the fact that this herb has become rare in the wild, this is no longer possible.   Medicinally they were traditionally used as a sedative.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica L.

Nettles on the other hand are profuse in my garden, so here is a delicious recipe,

Nettle soup                                                                                                                                              1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped                                                                                     1 clove of garlic,                                                                                                                                   2 potatoes, peeled and sliced.                                                                                                        2 large  handfuls ( do wear gloves) of young nettle heads.                                                1 Litre of vegetable or chicken stock.                                                                                     Olive oil, salt and pepper,                                                                                                                   Cream can be added prior to serving if you wish, but it is perfectly good without.

In a large saucepan add a little olive oil, the chopped onion, garlic and potatoes and gently fry for 3-4 minutes.  Wash and trim the nettles, add to the pan, add the stock. Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat, simmer until the potatoes are cooked. Liquidise and add the seasoning.  Serve with a dash of cream if desired .

Wild Garlic is also in profusion. Normally it would be in full flower if not going over by now,  this year it is still in the green.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

Wild Garlic, Ramsoms, Allium ursinum L.

The leaves are great wilted in butter and served with mash potato or added to soups or stews for flavouring.

All photographs are  ©  Jekka McVicar 2013

Lovely Lumas , Chilean Myrtles

I have a huge love of the Myrtaceae family and  they are one of the many reasons that I started the Herboretum.

Luma display

Luma display

I have found that many gardeners know Myrtles but not Lumas and many  are confused as to which is which.  What is great about Lumas is that, whereas the Mediterranean Myrtle can be a little tender, the Chilean Luma is very hardy and has even adapted to my clay soil. Even though this year they have been crushed by snow, when everything else is taking time to recover, they are now looking lovely.

PL33 luma gleangleam in flower

Luma apiculata ‘Glanleam Gold’ AGM

Another plus that is, similar to Myrtle, if a branch does get broken  or the tips do get scorched you simply have to cut back  and the new growth will come from the old wood.

Luma apiculata AGM

Luma apiculata AGM, Chilean Myrtle

The Luma apiculata has the most attractive cinnamon bark as it matures and makes an ideal specimen evergreen plant within the herb garden.

PL75 Luma Nanum-2

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’ Dwarf Luma

Luma apiculata ‘Nanum’, the dwarf luma, makes an ideal low hedge as it is very slow growing, it prefers a well drained slightly acidic  soil but will adapt to a well drained loam.

All Luma’s can be grown by the sea as their foliage is not damaged by salty water.

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, White Chilean Myrtle

Luma chequen, is the most robust of the Luma’s. It makes and ideal tall edging, hedging plant as it can be cut hard to keep it in shape.

In the kitchen the leaves can be used to flavour soups and stews, but should be used sparingly. After flowering the Luma has a black fruit which, when cooked, makes a very interesting conserve, jelly, which is extremely good with game dishes. 

At our Herb Friday on the 19th April we will be offering 20% discount on all  Luma plants.

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.