THE MODERN MINT BLOG

Aug10

Jekka McVicar (the Wonderful)

Jekka McVicar

In July we were invited to visit Jekka’s Herb Farm and herbetum, a fantastic nursery just North of Bristol run by the wonderful Jekka McVicar.

It is the first time we had met her, although we bought her book ‘Jekka’s Complete Herb Book’ many years ago now (along with over 1 million other people who have a copy….) and it was an absolute pleasure – she is funny, down-to-earth and interested in how she can help you learn more about herbs, a group of plants that don’t always get the air time ornamentals and fruit and vegetables are allowed.

Here is a small selection of the notes we made and the ideas we learnt from our short visit, but rest assured we will be going again one day, as you should to – a tour of the herbarium is worth it for all the strange and exotic herbs you get to taste!

What We Learnt with Jekka McVicar

Oregano compactum is great for butterflies.

Different mint’s will all taste the same if their roots touch.

Stevia is considered a ‘novel’ food because it has not been used/eaten regularly by the food industry for 35 years. This wonder plant, that will provide a sweet and healthy alternative to sugar, becomes vatable when registered as a novelty food… and so doesn’t get grown and sold widely….

Herbs are plants of the people!

In Ayurvedic medicine an ill person was told to sit in the herb garden, the herbs would be in raised beds and then the people could breathe the fragrance in ‘at nose level’…

Tansy cake (made with Tanacetum vulgare) was eaten as a wormer at Lent. It also stops fleas if you rub it on your dog!

Lovage was used as a deodorant to line your leather boots and stop them smelling.

Sorrel can clear your palate (love Sorrel, a much under rated herb in the kitchen…)

People would make a drink of the most prolific herb – so formerly in London, Angelica, which grew along the banks of the Thames, would be made into gin. Juniper was a luxury item rarely used.

Bitter is a taste we don’t have enough of in our diets, but it is good for the liver and should be sought out – even as food producers try to make our fruit and vegetables sweeter!

Members of the Lamiaceae family need to be pruned after flowering – and there are a lot of herbs in this family…. see mint, oregano, hyssop, thyme, basil…

The scent of rosemary is good for your memory.

Lemon balm is good as a stress -reliever….

Celery seed and cider vinegar in hot water will help arthritis.

Filipendula (which is in our Seedballs) makes a great natural painkiller.

Pot marigold is not that tasty, but got its name from being added to the pot food was cooked in… hence the name pot herbs….

The root of Althea officinalis was used as a carbohydrate before potato. Incidentally, ‘officinalis’ gives you a clue to what the plant was used for – as a medicine.

Flax (linseed) should be eaten every day for good health. So get to it!

Our trip to see the herb farm and meet Jekka McVicar was brilliant and we highly recommend going – she is a treasure trove of knowledge and passion, so go, learn!

Buy the Herb Book by Jekka McVicar now!

 

Apr28

Phillyrea From 1682

Worlidge Phillyrea

Phillyrea is one of my favourite plants for topiary. I have been using it for quite a few years as a specimen shrub, mostly due to the fact it clips well and has a tough habit – all good characteristics for a topiary plant. It also has a  reputation for being an excellent nectar source for bees… Read more about Phillyrea here. Mentioning this to Malcolm Thicke, a market garden historian and writer, he sent me a some photos of topiary and phillyrea mentioned by John Worlidge in Systema Horticulturae from 1682…. incredible! He also mentioned to me that in …

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Apr27

Kites And Strings Podcast – Topiary In The Garden

kites and strings podcast

Kites and Strings is a podcast about creativity, hosted by US-based Stephen Ploum and Catherine Chinnock. Back in March they asked me to come onto their podcast and talk about topiary, my past writing plays, the stand-up I did and how creativity can fit into your life. The Kites and Strings podcast was great fun and Stephen and Catherine are fantastic hosts. Listening back today I am surprised by some of the ideas I talked about (somehow I even started to describe a future where I run a ‘School of Creativity’ by the sea…. where did that come from?!) but it …

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Apr27

Robinia – Pruning A Beautiful Tree For Small Gardens

topiary Robinia

Robinia is often forgotten – by me, actually! – when thinking of plants for topiary. But when I work on it I do love it, brittle and soft as the wood is if you climb into it. But that danger of snapping a branch with a heavy step and falling out of the tree aside, I love it for the dappled light it allows into the garden space. Robinia Near The Sea Below is a Robinia I have gently clipped over the last few years, down near Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. The tree was large when I arrived, although it is …

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