If you have ever wondered why some people call aubergines ‘egg plants’ you had only to look in Raymond Blanc’s new glasshouse at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons this September. Aubergine ‘White Egg’, a heritage variety, had everyone looking twice. The white aubergines looked just like hen’s egg nestled in the branches!
Hartley Botanic’s glasshouse is the centre piece in the new Heritage Garden at Le Manoir. I designed the garden to showcase heritage varieties of vegetables, as a result of a winning a competition run by Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, in partnership with Garden Organic, Hartley Botanic, & the Society of Garden Designers. Raymond Blanc, Le Manoir’s patron and chef, is passionate about preserving variety, both as a way of having more choice in the kitchen, but just as importantly for diversity & environmental reasons.
The Heritage Garden glasshouse provides a sheltered space in which to start new heritage vegetables from seed, & ideal conditions for growing less hardy vegetables, herbs & fruits. It will also provide a new classroom for Le Manoir’s cookery & gardening schools.
Outside the glasshouse the Rotunda, a circular space framed with Cotswold stone seating walls, provides space for guests or students to sit while learning about the garden, or just enjoying the views. This autumn one could admire alternating rows of heritage varieties of lettuce, beetroot & bulb fennel. Bloody Warrior, a hardy lettuce, will continue to brave the winter weather, it acquires blood red flecks on the green leaves as the temperature drops.
A fine selection of heritage squash were harvested from the garden this autumn, & now take pride of place on display in the glasshouse. Later on, their seeds will be collected and stored, ready for re-sowing next year. Varieties of climbing squash were grown up attractive hazel and willow Growing Screens in the garden. Squash ‘Tromboncino’ caught everyone’s attention as it curled its way around the hazel & willow. Now in the glasshouse, its pale gold skin contrasts with the bright orange ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’ & the steely grey-green ‘Crown Prince’. Small stripy ‘Delicata’ is Raymond Blanc’s favourite squash for ravioli, whereas ‘Musquee de Provence’ & ‘Crown Prince’ he considers better for soups & purees.
A wonderful collection of chilli peppers continues to attract attention in the glasshouse in late Autumn. It is interesting to see cayenne pepper in the flesh, rather than ground in a jar! The heritage variety, ‘Cayenne Purple’, is hotter than the average cayenne. The chilli pepper ‘Twilight’ looks like a collection of multi-coloured jewels in a pot, red fruits contrast with others that are purple, gold, & orange, all on the same plant!
‘Society Garlic’ (Tulbaghia violacea) has an interesting name, & very attractive pale pink flowers. It is native to South Africa, & in the C.17th Dutch settlers considered it to be the best plant for providing a garlic flavour, without producing the typical pungent breath. High Society loved it! Try using the flowers as an attractive garnish to food, as well as chopping the leaves to add a ‘polite’ garlic flavour to a dish. It’s an easy plant to grow in a pot.
The Champagne Bottle Seating Wall in the garden is a fine example of in-house re-cycling – we collected empty champagne bottles from Le Manoir’s restaurant! The seat is a real talking point amongst guests, but it also provides a fine view back to the glasshouse, where the plants will continue to be productive and provide interest for visitors to the Heritage Garden through 12 months of the year.
May I encourage you to try growing one or two heritage varieties of vegetables in 2015, help spread the word about preserving our heritage! Consider too joining the Heritage Seed Library.