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


Relentless Optimism, sowing the seeds for 2013

I love early winter, the light levels are still good, the warmth is still in the soil and the seed harvest is finally in.  I now look forward to sitting inside in the warmth, cleaning the seed  so making it easier to sow.

I never ceased to be amazed by the ingenuity and beauty of seeds.

Szechuan pepper – Zanthoxylum simulans

Talking of 2013 I have already started sowing the seeds for early flowering.  The germination has been very good.

Cornflower – Centaurea cyanus

These Cornflowers took a mere 5 days to germinate using a bottom heat of 15C .  I have now removed them from the heat.  They will grow on in the greenhouse until spring has truly arrived.  Hopefully they will be ready and in flower for our display at the 100 th Chelsea flower Show where we will be launching our new Herboretum.   I know the tickets for this  truly amazing show are now on sale, being that it is the 100 th Chelsea can I suggest that if you are thinking of coming you get a ticket soon.

Painted Sage – Salvia viridis

These Painted Sage, one of my favourite annuals, also germinated quickly and I am 90% certain they will be a show stopper next year . Here, as a reminder  of the beauty of this sage, is  a photograph I took in the early summer.

On a positive note,  for those of you who do not enjoy the winter months, it is only 16 weeks until the 1st of March!

Print from a paper cut created by Rose Vickers one of the Jamaica Street Artists

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.

Twenty five years… my memories of growing up on the Herb farm.

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!

On the Farm in late November

For the last few weeks I have been battling with the propagation schedule for 2012.  When one grows  annuals, perennials, shrub, woody, tender and tropical herbs in a comparatively small propagation area, it is rather like doing one of those impossible jigsaws.

We have just finished all the root cuttings so that the seed sowing schedule  can start next week.  Priority goes to the  Chelsea annuals that have to be in flower for May, what a thought just 24 weeks until we deliver , no pressure! We will do two sowings, one now and one in a month’s time, this second sowing  will catch up, but we need the  insurance so that can  we guarantee, as much as possible, that the plants will be as near perfect  for those unique days in May at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

So the headache is that I need to get x amount of trays through the house in December and  January, when the light levels are low and the day and night time temperatures are erratic so making it nearly impossible to schedule. Where as the April schedule for plants, sellable in July, is much easier  as one can actually forecast  how long a plant will take from seed to sale, which on average is 6 weeks.  So to help me concentrate and to stop me feeling uptight with the computer I am drinking my 3pm tea and when things get really bad, I go and find Hampton, my dog, and walk the farm.

I have made an interesting mistake with my own garden, I

put these pea seeds to dry on the table near my house, before storing, then forgot them, and it rained, they have now germinated .  So I have potted them up and we will shortly be having pea shoots in our salads.

Despite our first frost, of the month, last night it has been incredibly warm.  This I am sure accounts for the infestation of aphids  still being rampant on our outside stock.

These black aphids are making a meal of  garlic chives.  We spray with a soft soap solution, please do not use washing up liquid as this is not suited for use on plants .    This solution is readily available from any good hardware store or garden centre.

So now I have finished the propagation schedule it is off to the seed shed to clean all the seeds we have harvested this year, get them labelled and filed so that we can find them quickly once the season is up and running.  It’s a great job to do and the smell is amazing and, even better, it takes me away from the computer.

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.