Inspiring Herbs that shine whatever the weather.

I never cease to be inspired by the fortitude of plants as they always seem to shine despite what the weather throws at them. Here are a few that are currently lifting my spirits even on the glummest days.

Santolina, Cotton Lavender. This herb is a native of Southern France and the Northern Mediterranean area. It was used medicinally for many centuries and historically, during the Medieval period, it was used both as an insect and moth repellent and as a wormer. There are many forms, my favourites are:

Santolina chamaecyparissus ‘Lambrook Silver’

Santolina pinnata subsp. neapolitana ‘Edward Bowles’

This herb needs to be cut back hard after flowering to prevent the plant becoming woody or splitting . Unlike its common name sake Lavender, this herb will shoot from old wood, which makes it ideal for growing as an edging plant or as a hedge.

Perilla frutescens var purpurascens Purple Shiso has, unlike its cousin Basil, thrived this year. The purple variety has come into its own in the garden as its deep colour makes the constrasting green leafed herbs seem more vibrant.

Another herb which has truley been spectacular throughout these dank days is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’.

I took this photograph at The Organic Garden on a particularly showery day, yet it still shone at the front of the border; it’s attractive silver foliage reflecting the light of the day.

These plants are currently available on the farm and if you also wish to be inspired please join us at our next Open days on Friday 20th, Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd. You will be able to browse our whole collection and, for those of you with exotic taste, I will be giving two free talks a day on ‘Oriental Herbs.’ Please visit the Open day link for more information and I look forward to seeing you next weekend, whatever the weather!!!

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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!