In my days off since last blogging, and writing the Dobies February e-newsletter, I have been travelling – indulging in one of my passions: herbs. Down to the Goodwood Estate near Chichester, discovering a fascinating little herb garden, and a little of its history. Even in Winter, the magic is there; bare earth, mulched and cosseted, plants sleeping in geometric beds: just a hint of the culinary pleasures to come, once Summer arrives. And then imagine the plucking and snipping, the chefs taking only a few short steps from ‘The Kennels’, across the road and into a sun-kissed walled garden, returning with handfuls of fresh leaves to chop and garnish, releasing their saviour and fragrance in delectable dishes.
It’s five years since the plot of land at the old whelping kennels was brought into use, arising from an idea put forward by the Estate’s Executive Chef who needed herbs ‘on demand’ for use in the kitchens. Now the close-clipped box-edgings have grown into green ribbons around the many borders; eight stately sentinel bay trees stand guard whilst innumerable herbs tempt and tantalise. Their names alone are reminiscent of culinary joys to come: borage and bergamot, hyssop, sorrel, lovage, parsley flat and curled, English lamb mint and winter savory, fennel, dill, chives and chervil, lemon verbena and lemon balm, sage, thyme and stripy pineapple mint, and rosemary in profusion.
It isn’t just culinary herbs that beguile and tantalise the senses. Flora Klickman, an indefatigable editor of women’s magazines in the early 1900s, and way ahead of her time, would leave behind the toils of London and escape to her ‘Flower Patch Among the Hills’ above the Wye valley. In 1916 she wrote: “Do you know what the scent of cut herbs is like on a hot summer day, with sweet peas in the background? In this herb garden there is sage, with its lovely blue flowers, lemon thyme, silver thyme, savory, hyssop, lavender, rosemary, rue, balm, marjoram, black peppermint, spearmint and parsley … and old-time bergamot.” Times have not changed; the same joy in growing herbs is as true today as it was ninety-five years ago and an aromatic herb patch – a secret retreat – is one to be treasured, if you have such a spot. Seek out herb gardens (often a garden within a garden) for inspiration. Take notes and photographs, make sketches.
Then look around your plot for a corner or patch, no matter how tiny, that you could enhance with herbs; you will be creating a sanctuary that will soothe and heal, just as have countless gardeners throughout history. Many herbs can be grown from seed, others from cuttings, or for a quick result, buy potted herbs and transplant them into ground that has been cleared of weeds and well mulched.
(This post written by contributor, Ann Somerset Miles.)