Gardening: sowing the seeds of a unique herb garden


This week I bring news of a bold new venture to launch on Thursday.

Herbalist Hamish Martin and his wife Liberty are turning a 7.5-acre organic plot into the Secret Herb Garden, which they say will become much more than a nursery for herbs. Their greenhouse and café will open next week and eventually will be followed by orchards, a rose garden, herb beds and more.

One could not hope for a more attractive sales area than the large renovated greenhouse. Martin hopes people will be inspired by the beauty of the place, whose wide alleys will be lined with fruit trees – peaches, apricots, figs, vines, old varieties of pears and the popular new apple-pear cross, Nashi pears or Asian. He wants his quiet green space to be “a jungle of grass where you can get lost”.

Damhead Garden near Edinburgh has a stunning selection of herbs for sale. There is the full range of hardy sage that can be grown outdoors in Scotland, as well as the slightly softer varieties of Mandarin, Pineapple and Blackcurrant. Martin tells me that he has 12 varieties of rosemary and over 60 mints, including the exotic Balm of Gilead or gingko.

Generally, however, Martin wishes to promote plants more suited to the Scottish climate. It also stores parsley and chervil, herbs that are easier to buy as plants than from seeds.

His definition of herbs is much broader than that of many people, and encompasses angelica, sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata), and tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), and he is also keen for gardeners to reassess what they consider it weeds. In a greenhouse bed, he uses chickweed as a type of mulch around his garlic and then sells chickweed to restaurants for use in salads. It also provides ground elderberry, cleavers and nettles. Passing in front of a bed of nettles, he said to me: “Do you see those nettles? They are all my friends.

It’s easy to forget that the petals can have a more delicate flavor than other parts of many plants, so it’s refreshing to see roses grown for their culinary value as well as beauty, one of which is the apothecary rose ( Gallica officinalis), Damascus roses and Zéphirine Drouhin. Other edible flowers include primroses, primroses, nasturtiums, marigolds and mallows – swamp (Althaea officinalis), musk (Malva moschata) and common (Malva sylvestris).

Old-fashioned herbs such as elecampane, feverfew, costaric, and sagebrush are also cultivated. Martin hopes people will find out that these beautiful, quirky plants have their uses, too. It’s encouraging to see rhubarb interspersed with sweet cicely, both of which coincidentally featured in the pork stew I ate the day before my visit.

The Secret Herb Garden therefore has a lot to offer. The cafe and convenience store offer herbal and locally sourced treats, including house beers, and visitors can fill a picnic basket and explore the garden. As they climb a hill, they will pass by raised flower beds, each dedicated to a particular species of grass.

It’s nice to see that the orchard has been planted with traditional Scottish apples, including Beauty of Moray and Clydeside. There are pears, plums, gauges, medlars and even blackberries. Half a dozen beehives offer a bonus. Watching the hard-working bees can be fascinating, and visitors can be inspired to enroll in a beekeeping class led by garden expert Brian Pool. With views of Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands, the backdrop is awe-inspiring.

The Martins aim to broaden the appeal of the garden by exhibiting old garden tools and furniture as well as hosting classes in cooking, cosmetics making, candle making and medical herbalism. It will be difficult to keep this place a secret.

The Secret Herb Garden, 32A Old Pentland Road, Edinburgh. Visit secretherbgarden.co.uk.


Terri S. Tomasini