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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Cottage industry

Posted on February 19 2008 at 1:53:46 0 comments

Nursery patch

Hannah Genders visits some organic friends.

There are some real benefits to living in the beautiful county of Worcestershire. One of the many is our heritage in growing plants, mainly fruit, and some nurseries are carrying this on – it’s something I really believe we should support and celebrate.

With this in mind I went to catch up with Kim Hurst and her husband Rob at The Cottage Herbery.

This local nursery is just outside Tenbury Wells; well, to be more precise, it’s in a little village called Boraston, up a lane and next to a stream in a truly beautiful spot of the Worcestershire countryside.

Kim and Rob have been growing plants and running this nursery for 32 years. They are completely organic and always have been – amazingly Rob even found the time to develop an organic peat-free compost for Kim to grow her precious plants in.

It reminds me a bit of the story of Dr Dalen, a Swedish physicist: the guy who invented the Aga cooker.

Dr Dalen was forced to stay at home due to an accident at work and observed how much his wife struggled with her current cooker, so he invented a much better one.

Likewise, the fibre compost Rob invented for Kim is superb and is the only coir compost to carry the Organic Soil Association logo. You can begin to get the impression that this couple don’t do anything by halves.

Moving to the cottage at Boraston over 23 years ago, Kim and Rob had a very heavy clay soil to deal with since the garden sits down in a valley and, as I mentioned before, is next to a stream.

I asked Kim how they had dealt with this and what advice she would give to others in a similar situation. She recommends using raised beds wherever possible and adding large amounts of well-rotted manure or compost every year.

The compost helps to make the soil more workable and break down the sticky clay; the raised beds ensure the ground isn’t walked on and this prevents the soil from getting compacted.

Kim describes what they grow as “cottage garden perennials and herbs, including plants used for natural flavouring, healing and fragrance”.

Many of these plants are not the common cottage garden plants or herbs you’ll find in any garden centre.

Rob and Kim have developed a few special plants of their own, like a red-stemmed angelica that has been used in many Chelsea gardens over the past few years.

There’s also a beautiful deep red nasturtium that holds its flowers above the leaves and keeps on flowering for ages – this was named after their daughter India and has the lovely name of Indian Ruby.

They have bred their own astrantia, which I saw in flower last time I was there, and I have to say is stunning. It has creamy white green tipped petals and a deep red centre, and is appropriately called Astrantia major “Cottage Herbery”.

With the current interest in all things organic and growing your own food in the garden, Kim and Rob are finding their plant sales are doing really well.

They regularly attend the local farmers’ markets and you will always find them at the Malvern Show, usually in the organic area.

For this year’s show Kim told me they are doing some really exciting features that link gardens and food. I am sworn to secrecy for most of it, apart from telling you about a new salad vegetable they are promoting.

Called Salsola, this unusual vegetable originates in Italy and is very popular in Japan. It can be eaten raw in salads or boiled and used as a vegetable, with its thin, crunchy leaves; Kim assures me the taste is salty and delicious. So look out for that one at the Malvern Spring Show.

Along with all this activity, Kim and Rob find time to run workshops from their nursery, where they have built an outdoor cooking area so visitors get to taste all this wonderful produce and see how to cook it.

This, along with a full list of all the other places where they sell their wonderful plants is available on their website.

For these local nurseries to keep going and growing plants and produce for us, they need our support and I love the idea of celebrating some real local character through our garden plants and herbs.

Ludlow Farmers’ Market March 27
RHS Spring Show at Malvern May 8–11

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