Welcome to our monthly series, Garden Notes. Every month we will be chatting to some of our favourite chefs, growers and gardeners. Tune in for their inspirations, top tips on what to plant, what to avoid, and how you should be using your produce in the kitchen.
Charlie Hibbert - Head Chef of Thyme
Charlie Hibbert is Head Chef of his family business Thyme, a restored historic Cotswold manor and farm. At Thyme, a passion for the land, food and entertaining merges with a love of local heritage, beauty and conservation, creating a place where guests experience a real connection to the land, the seasons and to nature. His childhood ingrained in him the importance of using food to shape an atmosphere and mood, and the kitchen quickly became his favourite place to be.
Charlie began his career as a code writer, but Soho restaurants and the world of food drew him away to an intense cooking course at Ballymaloe, where he learnt the importance of ingredient-driven cooking. After a year of eating his way around the world, followed by a year-long stint at Craggy Range Winery (one of New Zealand’s finest restaurants and wineries) he returned to England and to Soho for the relaunch of Quo Vadis in 2012. It is here that he learnt his craft, under the auspices of renowned Jeremy Lee, chef proprietor at Quo Vadis.
Tell us a bit about you and your green journey, how did you get into growing?
I worked in London for 7 years, and we had no garden space. I worked at Quo Vadis, where we were using the most amazing vegetables grown by Fern Verrow. They were immaculate, and a clear step above anything else we had delivered. Now we are living in the country we have started some planting in raised beds at home but have plenty to learn still. I wouldn't consider myself a gardener yet, I'm learning lots and the gardens and gardeners at Thyme are a wealth of knowledge.
We're now in March – what's keeping you busy in your garden, what are you planting now and what should gardeners be planning for the next month?
On average frosts come as late as the second week of May, so not much is going in the ground yet. However, things are in motion. We are growing seedlings in our little greenhouses (and in the kitchen at home), ready for more permissive weather, and rotavating the ground in readiness. It's prep time for summer. There is a bit of foraging to be don – young nettles and wild garlic galore in some of the neighbouring fields!
There's nothing more satisfying than growing what you eat. What's your favourite bounty from the garden and how do you serve it?
Vegetables come in gluts, things like courgettes grow so voraciously you are picking them every day. What I really love though is Rhubarb, it comes in February and marks the end of winter. Tumble it over meringues or with granola for breakfast.
What do you find most rewarding about your garden?
Eating it, that's the end goal!
Who is your biggest garden inspiration and why?
Bunny Guinness, garden designer extraordinaire, she's designed the gardens at Thyme and many more besides. From our kitchens at Thyme, we look out onto the Ox Barn terrace - beautifully designed, it looks great all year - floriferous for much of the year, and a rich red in the colder months, with architectural elements and evergreens and grasses to keep it fresh. Its a fabulous space that the restaurant spills onto.
Gardening tool you couldn't live without?
At home, it's the trusty trowel. Nothing fancy.
Sustainability is at the heart of what we do at Sapling. What's your approach and do you have any top tips?
The easiest place to start is to avoid plastic packaging, it's hideous. Find a local market or shop with fresh produce, what you buy is often infinitely better and comes without the plastic trimmings.
Rabbits, slugs, just can't get it to grow – what's your biggest garden bugbear and why?
At the moment... The dog! She's very into digging up everything I plant.
How do you like your Sapling?
In a martini, dry, with a twist.
From April 16 the Ox Barn restaurant at Thyme will be open for al fresco dining for Friday, Saturday and Sunday from midday to sunset. They will not be taking reservations, but there’s plenty of space. If there is a short wait, wander the shop or gardens, or borrow a picnic blanket to enjoy the orchard with a drink and nibble.
From May 17th onwards, they are taking bookings for the bedrooms, Ox Barn, spa and cookery school.