The Queen of Herbs

I’ve changed the intro to this post a thousand times because I am so excited to finally announce that Jekka, the most renowned organic herb gardener in the UK, has designed and planted my herb garden.

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There is nothing that Jekka doesn’t know about herbs, and and I learned at least a thousand new facts, just by following her around. Her expertise is outstanding, and even though her attitude is the ultimate in professionalism, her personality is totally infectious, zany and generous.

Jekka is literally ‘everything’ in the world of herbs. She has published ten books, several of them very successful, on growing herbs and cooking with them. She is a contributing writer to some of the biggest gardening magazines, including the BBC Gardener’s World Magazine and Gardens Illustrated. She is an elected member of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) and sits on several of its committees, and she is the president of the Herb Society. She has been awarded 62 (no, that’s not a typo) Royal Horticultural Society Gold Medals for her organic herb displays, including 14 for her displays at RHS Chelsea Flower Shows.

I could carry on about Jekka forever… but let’s get back to my garden. Her Majesty, the Queen of All Herbs, gave my garden a piece of her passion and expertise, and from now on it is going to flourish. Along with their beauty, her carefully selected herbs will add the complexity to my cooking that she features in the 346 pages of ‘Jekka’s Herb Cookbook’.

When Jekka appeared in my garden the first time, I could almost see my poor balding herb beds perk up at the sight of their mistress. She can distinguish 50 varieties of thyme from a distance of 4 meters, and tell you the whole story behind each variety. Although I’m nowhere near as good as Jekka in the ‘Guess-what-type-of-thyme-this-is?’ game, I still love my herbs – first of all because they can make any boring, bland food taste like heaven, and secondly, because they are literally an edible cure/prevention for anything that ails you, from cough to upset stomach. As Jekka noted, addition of an herb ‘makes even lettuce taste interesting.’ Do you get the impression that she might not like lettuce? 🙂

Jekka has a personality that reminds you of your strictest, yet most beloved, school teacher. She called my head gardener, Mitchell, and the first thing she said to him was, ‘Show me your secateurs.’ After inspecting them, she told me, ‘He is a good gardener. His secateurs are very sharp.’ They got along really well, and Jekka kindly shared her organic expertise with Mitch the whole morning.

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To Jekka, plants are not just roots and leaves. She treats them as creatures, or human beings, if you prefer. She advised me to not plant herbs under wisteria, calling it ‘a hungry beast’. As she planted not one, but two, of Jekka’s thymes, she told me, ‘These are Jekka’s thymes – quite strong for an old lady. You have it twice in the garden, so you know I’m watching you!’

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The variety of herbs she introduced to my garden is enormous! After my walk-and-smell trip with Jekka, I came away with three favorites:

Cretan Oregano

‘When it flowers you will text me,’ demanded Jekka.

Cretan Oregano is endangered in the wild, but it looks quite happy in my herb garden. This one belongs in my list of top five must-have herbs.

Double-flowered Chamomile

Although this one smells like Irn Bru, it has some very good properties. You can use it in your tea to help reduce inflammation, irritation, and insomnia. Chamomile is also amazing for upset stomachs and food poisoning.

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Sweet Violet

A potentially life-saving herb, it can cure anything from sleeping disorders to gout. It’s known as the ‘raw material’ for aspirin. Its leaves have antiseptic properties, its roots are purgatives, and its seeds are diuretic. However, despite all of its magical medicinal properties, these won’t be relegated to only my first aid cupboard – I plan to put them straight into my pudding.

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Amazing healing qualities are not the only good things about herbs. They also look so pretty. (Well, at least they do when they are planted by Jekka!)

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In this picture they are newly-planted, but you can already see how precise and technical all of this herb business is. You really need to know your herbs, to make sure they are going to look perfect together when they mature, considering their size, volume, and texture. Already I’m absolutely confident that my garden will be just as amazing as Jekka’s 62 gold-medaled gardens.

‘When your herbs marry… I mean when they go on fire, they will look stunning. Just like a stained glass in the church.’ Jekka McVicar

 

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