How did you become Head Gardener?
I’ve been at the Battlesteads since 2006, my first remit was to increase bio-diversity in the then neglected walled garden. Once that was achieved I set up the kitchen garden, two garden polytunnels and cut flower beds and a tomato greenhouse. This year I’ve just set up a grape vine hot house and asparagus bed. My husband joined me in 2015 and he oversees all the micro-leaf and pea shoot production. It’s hard work, in peak season the chefs will go though around 36 punnets of micro-leaf and around six troughs of pea shoots a week. He also oversees the mushroom production, we’re currently producing 15kg of mushrooms a week.
What does the role of Head Gardener entail?
My role is to provide a selection of oyster and shiitake mushrooms, fresh salads, micro-leaf, herbs, edible flowers, fruit, select vegetables and cut flowers to Battlesteads throughout the year. I ensure that organic, sustainable and eco-friendly practices are adhered to and that no chemicals, herbicides or pesticides are used in the growing of all edible crops. I also take garden tours and vegetable growing for beginners courses at Battlesteads.
What do you enjoy most?
I love the changing seasons, the peace and tranquility of working outside the pressured environment of a busy hotel, the challenge of producing a succession of produce for the chefs and also taking home a selection of what I grow!
What is most in demand here?
We grow a wide selection of herbs including parsley, tarragon, rosemary, to lavender, chives, lemon verbena, thyme, oregano and more. We also incorporate edible flowers into the menu – pansy, viola, cornflowers, tagetes and calendula to name just a few. We have a continual demand for salad for 10 months of the year and so we are constantly growing baby leaf kale, spinach, oak leaf varieties, cos and little gem varieties and romaine for the Caesar salads. For fruit we have raspberries, red white and black currants, red green and yellow gooseberries, blackberries, apples, pears and the important sloes for autumn gin making. When it comes to vegetables, we only grow baby ones as there isn’t enough space to grow larger ones. We also grow autumn greens, kales, mangetout peas and beans, artichokes, asparagus, kohlrabi, onions, shallots, garlic and a selection of mushrooms like coloured oysters and shiitake.
Why do you think it is important for Battlesteads to grow their own produce for the restaurant?
It’s crucial for sustainability, reducing our carbon footprint and to produce provenance. These factors are all extremely important to the business and the kitchen garden means that the chefs have more involvement and a greater knowledge of how the crops are grown. We also think it’s important for the guests to be able to see where what they’re eating is grown and how it is grown.
Do you have any tips for encouraging crop growth?
The key is ground preparation and to use support if the crop requires it. I use natural organic feeding, regular slug patrols and then trust nature to take its course.
What is on the menu this summer?
We’ll have a lot of crisp cos lettuces in reds and greens, handfuls of fresh French leaf parsley, basil, lemon verbena, Chinese leek, chives, tarragon, thyme, rosemary and lavender. There’ll also be baby kohlrabi, leeks and beetroots turnips, summer greens, flowering sprouts, mange tout, peas, runner beans, garlic, onions and shallots. We’re also growing red white and black currants, all types of gooseberries and raspberries. Courgette flowers are always in demand so there’s never really a courgette fruit glut!
How do you work with chefs to incorporate local produce with what you have grown in the kitchen garden?
We sit down and discuss timescales of all my crops and likelihood of availability. I can give the chefs two weeks notice of a crop being ready. The chefs have built great relationships with local suppliers so if a few brace of pheasant arrive or a salmon or two they know they can have produce from the garden then can pair nicely with these dishes.
What’s your favourite produce to grow?
It has to be the courgette flowers, I take some home on weekends – my husband’s a great cook, he will stuff them and lightly deep-fry them. There’s nothing better than sitting with a glass of chilled, dry white and a plate of those.
Do you have any tips someone wanting to start their own home garden?
Make sure that you grow what you want to eat then you’ll stick at it. Don’t grow a vegetable that doesn’t interest you!
Battlesteads Hotel & Restaurant
Wark on Tyne, Hexham,