The Herb Channeler's Adventures with Jekka McVicar

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Well, to say Jekka McVicar, British herb farm owner, author and herbalist and the Queen of Herbs, had an adventure in Pittsburgh at the National Herb Society conference is an understatement. The Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America kept her on her toes, but I know she enjoyed her time with all of the ladies and gentlemen in the units from all over the country. She gave a great speech on Friday called Herbs are More than a Garnish. I always thank my mother each and every day for making me eat my parsley on my plate in restaurants. You can see some more photos of the national conference on my blog, Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden.

I got to spend Saturday with Jekka before her flight back to her beloved herb farm in England. We had to spend our time wisely because time was short. I first took her to the Elizabethan Herb Garden in Mellon Park, which is tended by the Western Pennsylvania Unit of the Herb Society of America. They have done a really great job under committee chair, Liz De Piero.

There is the Elizabethan Knot Garden which is surrounded by boxwood hedge (Buxus sempervirens) and the knot is formed by germander (Teurcrium chamaedrys). In the center of each diamond, there is a santolina plant either green (Santolina virens) or gray (Santolina chamaecyparissus). In the corners of the Knot Garden are Allium senescens ‘Glaucum’, or curly chives. I just did a post about chives about six weeks ago called Spring Favorites: The Good, the Bad and the Curly Chives. The Knot Garden is also surrounded by four beds of lavender and four thyme beds.  Here is a photo of the knot garden edged by lavender and thyme beds.

The other important bed is the Shakespeare Garden. Jim and Dotti Becker wrote an article called Shakespearean Garden: Recreate an Elizabethan Garden in the April/May 1995 issue of The Herb Companion. In the article they highlight certain Elizabethan gardens to be seen throughout the country. The Elizabethan Herb Garden in Mellon Park was one of them. This is one that is thriving.  Always check to make sure that gardens still exist when reading articles from other decades. 

Shakespeare mentioned over 160 plants throughout his works. The bed is broken down into four beds–Herbs, Vegetables Garden Flowers and English Wild Flowers–and has just a fraction of the plants mentioned in his plays. The well in the center holds horseradish, the 2011 Herb of the Year. This bed is surrounded by boxwood. There are additional beds such as Rose, Culinary, Fragrance and Shade. There are six smaller beds that include Tea; Dye; Pittsburgh 250 Garden, which relates to the King’s Garden that contained herbs, flowers and vegetables and was planted near Fort Pitt around 1762; Silver Garden; Plants from Great Britain; and Medicinal. Here is a photo of the Shakespeare Garden.

Jekka had a day of firsts. She spotted her first chipmunk in the garden and there were other firsts mentioned later in this post. If you live the Pittsburgh area make a point of visiting this intimate garden space in Mellon Park next to the Phipps Garden Center on Shady Avenue. 

Next we were off to our garden. Jekka and I are standing in my herb garden in this next photo. Pinch me! I can’t believe Jekka actually visited my herb garden! The red-flowered (although it looks purple in the photo) thyme was in bloom. She said it just looked like my blog photo! Besides the thyme, the lavenders, feverfew and rosemary santolina are in bloom.

I think she really enjoyed her visit to our house and garden because she had seen display gardens during the conference. She said she thought of it as a forest garden, very intently planted and not so manicured. She actually took a photo of the ivy growing on our house. She loved the native or wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa). Here is a photo of the wild bee balm.

She also got to see her first blue jay in our garden. They have Steller’s jays in England. I get too uptight about the garden and since I’m a Virgo I can be a little too perfect. She told me to just chill about my perceived chaos in the garden! You were right, K.C.! I like to manage the garden more and The Herbal Husband is the grower of all plants, invasive and otherwise. It’s OK. If Jekka’s happy, I’m happy.  

Who knew I would find out that Jekka’s favorite jeans are Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. I had never even heard of them before! She loves to wear them when she is working on the herb farm. We had to have a retail experience at our local mall, Ross Park. While there are no photos of the event, she did manage to pack an additional two pairs of jeans into her suitcase. Always a good thing!

We ended our day together with a gorgeous (her word not mine) lunch at The Pines Tavern where The Herbal Husband and I had our wedding reception some 23 plus years ago. It is all about fresh ingredients at The Pines Tavern. Jekka had a chef’s salad with shrimp, avocado, oranges and fresh greens. I had the pasta of the day that included salmon, dill and orecchiette pasta and lots of Parmesan cheese. I also had to have a glass of lavender lemonade.

Here’s a closeup of our lunch and my lavender lemonade.

Continuing our day of firsts for Jekka, she spotted her first ground hog and a turkey flew over the car along the way! It was a special day and I know she enjoyed our time together. I am glad I could add to her adventures here in the ‘Burgh. She has hit the ground running in England. Her next event is the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July. You can read her version of her time in Pittsburgh on her blog at Jekka’s Herb Farm

As always, if you have any herbal questions or comments, please leave me a comment here or e-mail me at Talk to you soon.

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