Despite being an annual visitor, the intricate sweeping layout of the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show always proves problematic for my terrifically bumbling sense of direction. Attending the show is always a much anticipated event, but with the copious exhibit categories renamed and/or added every year, one can’t help but feel that similar sense of M&S frustration, where yet again some bright spark has shuffled the shelves around. Despite memories of Vegas-everything-is-located-through-the-casino-and-shops, the show’s masterful timing coincides perfectly with the growing season, (or current lack thereof). When it comes to edibles, the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, never fails to inspire.
No need for the map to locate the Growing For Taste marquee, as the lucid aroma of garlic radiating from the Garlic Farm exhibit, was strong enough to make even Hansel and Gretel reconsider bread crumbs. Following gold studded success in 2011, Paul Barney, owner of Edulis nursery, was brought back to design the Garlic Farm’s 2012 exhibit, entitled Allium Alfresco. At the Cottesbrooke Gardeners’ Fair, earlier this year, Barney expressed worries as to his design as the weather was delaying garlic flowering, but he needn’t have worried as the result was simply stunning. Quite rightly, the exhibit was awarded with a gold medal, and named best exhibit in the marquee.
Barney’s planting, very much a masterclass in (Allium) companion planting, included much of that Edulis originality, where though the Allium family remains the key focus, the planting included both common favourites, such as (a.o.) Rosa Long John Silver, Verbena Bonairiensis, Amni Majus, Valeriana Officinalis, Sanguisorba Pink Tanna, Mentha Longifolia, and Nepeta Grandiflora all featured, alongside exciting (personally) novel plants such as Tulbaghia Cosmic, Seseli Libanotis, and Allium Senescens.
The Garlic Farm’s exhibits over the years have inspired the inclusion of more ornamentals in our kitchen garden. An army of Amni Majus, Visnaga and Borage now flower proudly in and amongst my Elephant garlic and rain depressed Artichokes. Heaven for pollinators, and great for cutting flowers. Chris Beardshaw’s community garden project in the Urban Oasis cleverly combined ornamentals with edibles, using not just vegetables, but fruit trees and bushes in and amongst the planting.
Having written a rather animated article recently entitled, ‘The Socially Acceptable Kitchen Garden – Fruit and Veg Snobbery’, about horticultural snootiness derived from the ever increasing pressure to grow the trendier; unusual, unbuyable, unexpected and ‘not available in supermarket’ produce to satisfy our growing celebrity chef food culture, I, very cautiously and gingerly, approached the ‘Edible Forest’ exhibit, of Mr Taste of the Unexpected himself, Marc Diacono of Otter Farm.
Annoyingly, the man is as charming as ever and his first show exhibit, brimming with his novel produce, was delightful. His famous cocktails, sampled at Chelsea, and heavily advertised at Hampton, eluded me as the judges were taking rather longer than anticipated on judging day, but apart from that, couldn’t fault him. Central to the exhibit was a surprisingly beautiful (5 year old) Szechuan Pepper tree which looked almost like a cross between an Acacia and Ash tree. Diacono has often recommended growing Szechuan Pepper, but having yet to discover its culinary benefits and hearing much of his grow ‘only remarkables’ chants, his advice had not been taken seriously, until now that is. Mind, my snobby veg argument still stands…
According to Diacono, Szechuan plants are perfectly easy to grow, even from seed but that will require a good few years before achieving any harvests. Plants can be grown as bushes or trees, where pruning will determine its desired shape and size. In his book1, Diacono writes that the Szechuan Pepper tree will grow in most temperate areas of the country which is somewhat worrying as I fear that our cold (hill top) Oxfordshire winters may be a bridge too far, but think it may still be worth trying.
Just to be clear, I’m considering Szechuan for the garden simply because it’s a lovely tree…
- ‘A Taste of the Unexpected’, Marc Diacono, Quadrille Publishing. Don’t tell him I own a copy!