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Plate of food at the Duchy Nursery with fresh fish and edible flowers from the garden.

The Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden sits below the terrace, between the bumblebee garden and the children’s play area. It consists of nine square beds, with longer beds around the edges. We don’t have enough room to grow vegetables in the quantities required by a busy café, so we’re aiming to provide highlights for the kitchen and bar: wonderfully fresh herbs and colourful edible flowers.

Although it’s currently fashionable to use flowers in food, it’s a practice recorded as far back as the ancient Greeks, when seeds of certain plants were an expensive commodity traded alongside fine spices. It’s likely their use in those days was as much medicinal as aesthetic. The plants we grow are chosen for colour, texture, flavour and ease of cultivation. The three species we find easiest to grow are nasturtiums, borage and marigolds. Borage leaves and flowers can used in drinks and tisanes. The flowers, which may be blue or white, can be frozen into ice cubes and have the added advantage of being irresistible to bees. Nasturtiums will grow anywhere, and all parts of the plant can be used. While the flowers are primarily decorative, the leaves and buds have a peppery watercress flavour, and the buds make a good substitute for capers. Marigolds, or calendula, are possibly the best known of the edible flowers with well-documented use over centuries in many parts of the world. A whole marigold flower would be an unpleasant mouthful, so the petals are pulled off and scattered through salads. We’re growing several varieties to give a range of colours. This summer, we’ll also be trying daylilies, bergamot and alpine pinks. The garden will be an ever-changing scene throughout the season while we trial different varieties.

The long beds surrounding the area are permanently planted with lavender and rosemary. The bottom bed is alternating fennel and angelica, which goes from nothing to a four-foot high green screen in one season. We’ve planted a row of crab apple trees along the edge next to the bumblebee garden, which are still young but beginning to crop well, and will provide delicious fruit for jellies. The nine square beds in the middle contain a mixture of herbs and flowers, though two are permanently planted with mint (our customers drink a lot of Pimm’s). The herbs include sage, tarragon, oregano, chives, and lemon verbena. The chives are allowed to flower and the round heads separated into tiny little oniony blooms for salads.

An important addition last year was the inclusion of three large rectangular raised beds growing cut flowers for use in our café and shop. These are planted and looked after by Becca from the Garden Gate Flower Company. These are the only part of the kitchen garden not growing edible plants, but they undoubtedly earn their space. By summer these are positively overflowing with blooms, including sweet peas, dahlias, cosmos and many more unusual varieties, showing just how many flowers can be grown in a limited space.