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


TheStars of the Chelsea Flower Show 2012

Thymus ‘Jekka’, Artemisia absinthium, Wormwood,Mentha longifolia subsp schimperi Eastern Mint, Atriplex hortensis var. rubra Red Orach, Papaver rhoeas Field Poppy.

I always find it truly amazing that, however worried I get before Chelsea  and whatever the vagaries of the weather, the plants seem to know that it is ‘Show Time’ and simply shine on the day.  Who would have thought it would have been possible to have the Poppy in flower especially as, one week before the show, they were still buds.

Papaver rhoeas, Poppy  and Linum perenne, Flax.

We grew them for 2 show gardens, the Arthritis Research Garden and the  L’Occitane Immortelle Garden, and used the surplus stock in our own display.  The simple splash of red draws you eye to see even more detail within the garden.

Istatis tinctoria, Woad looked stunning in the L’Occitane Immortelle Garden  and also the Renault garden in the new Fresh garden section of the show.

Istatis tinctoria, Woad, with Silybum marianum, Milk Thistle in front

This is a traditional dye plant which produces a blue/grey dye from the mature leaves. As a dye plant it has now been nearly superseded by indigo.

Isatis tinctoria, Woad, in full yellow flower under planted with Allium schoenoprasum, Chives,and Nepeta x faassenii, Catmint.

We also battled with the cornflowers for the RBC Blue Water garden and even they sprung into flower just in time.

Centaurea cyanus, Cornflower

But the star of this year, as in many previous years,was Angelica. It looked architecturally splendid on the M&G garden.

Angelica archangelica, Angelica

It also attracted the honey bees which were being constantly photographed on our stand.

The question of the show was about Alkanet and Borage as many seemed confused as to which was which .

To make it quite clear. Alkanet, like its first cousin Comfrey, is a herbaceous perennial reappearing each year in the same place.  It is not edible,  the roots produce a red dye which was traditional used to colour rouge.  Borage, on the other hand, is an annual herb which will happily self seed itself all round your garden.  The leaves and flowers are edible and medicinal. The flowers are synonymous with the drink  Pimm’s.

As we close on this years Chelsea we are already in full preparation for 2013, the 100th Chelsea Flower Show, which will, I am sure, be as spectacular as this year has been.

Thymus ‘Jekka’

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.


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.


Seedlings in January

Germination of all the annuals in January was extremely good due to the excellent light levels.


everything was on schedule however  we had had very little rain.


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.


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.


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.

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.

Best Chelsea ever

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show was wonderful this year. Despite high winds scattering debris and London Plane Tree pollen over immaculate gardens, and a spot of (much needed but rarely convenient) torrential rain, it was really very special and many visitors to our Pavilion Way stand commented that it was their favourite Chelsea ever.

It was particularly exciting for us this year. Not only did we launch Jekka’s Herbal Tea (which promptly sold out ), but we also grew our organic herbs for three major show gardens, including the gold medal winning B&Q garden by Laurie Chetwood & Patrick Collins…

B&Q Garden, featuring organic edible herbs grown here on the farm

…the Silver Gilt winning M&G Investment Garden by Bunny Guinness…

The M&G garden, featuring our organically grown herbs

…and the silver medal winning Skyshades garden by Marney Hall…

Skyshades garden – organic, wild and beautiful (and a bit of Plane Tree pollen on the camera lense darn & blast it)!

What made Chelsea particularly special for Jekka? Well, amidst brewing up herbal tea on our Pavilion Way stand..

Jekka's Herb Farm, Pavilion Way stand

..(which featured a beautiful dresser to display our teas, handmade from sustainable wood by Green Woods Furniture)…

Dresser by Green Woods Furniture

…moderating for the RHS judges, giving a VIP tour to Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cornwall, with several BBC TV interviews thrown in for good measure, this year’s Chelsea Flower Show held the ultimate surprise for Jekka. Completely unbeknown to Jekka, Rhododendron ‘Mrs T.H. Lowinsky’ bears the name of her Great Grandmother, named by Jekka’s Great Grandfather, an avid collector of rhododendrons. Jekka came across this beautiful flower, proudly on display by Chelsea gold medal winners Millais Nurseries.

Rhododendron 'Mrs T H Lowinsky'

What an amazing discovery!

Next stop, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 5th – 10th July (or if you can’t wait for a browse and a sensuous sniff amongst the organic herbs, come along to our next Open Days 17th – 19th June, here on the farm in South Glos).

Smiths Guitarist,Johnny Marr gets Bright & Breezy with Jekka’s new brew

Jekka’s new, organic herbal brews are proving to be a popular tipple at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week. Former guitarist of  The Smiths, Johnny Marr, paid a visit to Jekka’s Pavilion Way stand on Monday and enjoyed a cup of Jekka’s Bright & Breezy Brew (lemon balm, lemon peel, rosemary and cornflower).

Johnny Marr supping Jekka's Bright & Breezy Brew

Johnny Marr supping Jekka's Bright & Breezy Brew

A great advocate of herbal tea, and happy to be our first musical tea tester (apart from Jekka, of course, ex flautist from 70s rock band, Marsupilami), Johnny breathes in the aromatic brew, and drinks up. What’s the verdict?


A smile, and a purchase of all 3 blends (Bright & Breezy, Jekka’s 3pm Tea and Jekka’s Good Night Tea). Jolly good. We’d love to think that Jekka’s organic herbal brews will perhaps even help to inspire Johnny, now a solo artist, with a new hit. Johnny  – keep us posted!

Jekka's Herbal Teas