From the moment you step into the field on Jekka’s Herbetum you can smell the herbs. A damp Spring day does little to quell the warm aromatic air exuding from the farm and you know you’re in for a real treat. Jekka’s famous Herb Farm has been on my list of places I’ve wanted to visit for a little while so I took advantage of the first Spring bank holiday of the year to visit this wonderful place.
Her farm is home to over 300 varieties of herbs, UK natives and some tropical species. It’s amazing to see how many different varieties of a single herb there are. The rosemaries which are currently in flower are beautiful and even within this one species there are so many types to see and learn about. Flowers range from the familiar sky blues to deep azures, white and pink. There are such ranges in their growing habits too, some trail over the edge of raised beds reaching for the ground, some are upright, tall, making for a large shrub others are like candlelabra’s opening up and rooting where the meet the ground or can be pruned into a lovely dense shape. I learnt that stroking them as you walk past reveals that their scents have subtle differences, from the traditional we are used to through to a menthol hint of Eucalyptus.
There are two large beds dedicated to the mints. Mints come in some many different scents, shapes and flavours. There are the traditional spearmints we are most familiar with and a beautiful curly variety. The strong peppermints such as Black and Chocolate peppermint. Then perhaps some of my favourites, the fruit scented mints like apple, pineapple, orange, lemon and banana. There is even one called Berry’s and Cream. I couldn’t resist so I returned to the shop with a banana variety. The most interesting fact I learnt was that it’s important to keep different varieties apart, this is because there is a mystical thing which happens when the roots of two mints touch. They will change the flavour and both will end up tasting exactly the same despite looking very different from one another.
Jekka herself was at the open day and hosted tours of the Herbetum. This was a fantastic opportunity to listen to the huge wealth of knowledge and experience that she has. You learn lots about the plants and her propagation methods. Perhaps most importantly you learn that there are two key essentials with herbs – pruning and feeding. We often leave herbs once they are planted, as long as they are in free draining soil in good sunlight we may think the job is done, however, it’s important to understand when to prune them after flowering particularly in our changing climate and that they need feeding every Friday from March – the best feed of which is Epsom Salts (organic and Soil Association approved).
There is much more to see other than mints and rosemaries. There are lavenders, oreganos, fennels, alliums, wild strawberries, myrtles, primulas, peppers, cynaras and all manner of hedgerow herbs.
With the end of the tour and thoughts about plants I wanted to buy, I headed over to the shop for some herbal tea and fabulous homemade cake.
My personal treat and what had sent me in search of this fabulous farm in the first place was the tender Plectrantus amboinicus – Jamaican Broadleaf Thyme. This is the traditional Jamaican thyme my mother grew with. I have a small plant which will sit on my kitchen windowsill and I will follow Jekka’s advice to the letter in taking care of this rare beauty. I’m looking forward to adding it to soups and stews. I can taste it already.
Jekka’s Herb Farm