Caryn Hibbert

Seeds of Inspiration: Part Two

by Caryn Hibbert Global Stories 1 May 16

Every year we plan very carefully what we are going to grow in the kitchen garden. 

We are learning all the time. Not just the plants that grew and cropped well last season and those that didn't, but which tasted delicious and which were disappointing. We continually learn about our little piece of land and its particular microclimate; where the frost pockets are; the pest problems that we encountered; the prevailing winds; the soil quality and type; the rainfall and the watering each plant required; where the soil drains well, where it doesn't and more. 

Luckily for us, in our verdant corner of England, it is not a matter of life or death, we can pop to the shops if it all goes wrong; but when a crop fails for many people around the globe, in Africa & Asia, the results are catastrophic. At Thyme, making seed choices is an immensely pleasurable and rewarding process. It is a complex journey from choosing the seeds to serving freshly harvested and delicious vegetables, herbs and flowers in our restaurant, our dinner parties, cocktails or cookery school.  However, it is expensive: involving gardeners, chefs and our front of house teams - they all need to understand the journey. We do not want to get it wrong.  So choosing the right seeds is important to say the very least. 

Not only do we want something that looks and tastes delicious, we want something that is a little different, that reminds us of the biodiversity of nature, lost through time with the development of commercial farming and the increasing detachment of many modern lives from the land. We want something that grows well in our garden but needs as little extra help as possible. Embracing the huge variety of produce now available and our interest in food from all around the globe is exciting; so when picked from the gardens and walked to the kitchens it not only delights us, but also has the smallest carbon footprint possible; not just healthy and delicious to eat because its so fresh, but good for our planet too. Gone are the days when we demand produce that is a uniform shape and size, pristine and pre-washed in its packet from where we are not sure. We embrace the romantically mis-shapen, soil covered slightly odd looking vegetable that has been grown sustainably and locally.

As we learn from each season we make careful choices for the next. In a very small way we are practising what farmers have done for millennia, collected the seeds that have grown the best so that every year their crop is a little better. The enormous diversity and selection of plants we grow has come from a heritage shaped by individual taste, and a new interest in heirloom varietals is ensuring that that diversity is not only rescued but celebrated, the evolution of plants telling not just their stories but our stories. Of migration, evolution, settlement and culture as well as a story of climate, soil and environment.

So variety is definitely the spice of life. We are looking forward to growing Jaune Obtuse de Doubs a yellow heirloom carrot; cauliflower 'sunset' with its orange florets; a purple basil; a Japanese Perilla; and Oxalis Tuberosa Oca, a little tuber originally from the Andes of South America, which grows surprisingly well in the alluvial soils of our kitchen garden. 

And amazingly, as I write, I am reliably informed by my brother, David Bertioli, that there has been an amazing discovery on a mountain top in Brazil that perfectly illustrates the way plants diversify and evolve to suit different environments. High up on just one particular mountain, on one small wet slope, an enormous carnivorous sundew has been discovered, new to science and named Drosera Magnifica.  Its enormous fly-catching, flesh-eating stems grow to over a metre in length. You can rest assured that you won't bump into one of these when visiting our kitchen garden at Thyme, but hopefully you will find something unusual and interesting to start conversations, embrace sustainability and science and leave us inspired to spread the word about our love of the land.

We buy our seeds from The Real Seed CataloguePennard PlantsJekkas Herb FarmVictoriana NurseryNorfolk Herbs and Kings Seeds.