The Hebridean Garden

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White campion and nettle

The smaller gardens at Chelsea were the ones to linger over last week. I have a thing about tweed so I went over to the Hebridean Weaver's Garden hoping to like it.

Spinning wheel in the Hebridean garden at Chelsea

Of course it wasn't really about the cloth, though there were three bolts on display, drying outdoors in the make-believe island wind. Somehow the designers of the garden side-stepped twee and succeeded in making a fascinating space, despite the props which included a spinning wheel.

Flag iris in the Hebridean garden

This was because the plants were so interesting. Weeds are riding the crest of a wave at Chelsea so I wasn't surprised to see nettles, dock and dandelion (also featuring in the next door garden). I didn't know however that these were some of the dye plants used by weavers, along with flag iris (above), foxgloves and honeysuckle. Plants more familiar to islanders but less so to midlanders like me were bog myrtle, bogbean and bell heather. Cotton grass and marsh marigold

The dye flowers (and vegetables: onions, cabbage and carrot) were all near the stone hut or blackhouse, with its thatch and turf roof. Across the yard were other “significant” plants, in other words, local wildflowers not used in the tweed-making process. They looked perfectly at home by the periphery of the Royal Hospital grounds: cow parsley, white and red campion, meadow cranesbill. The most arresting indigenous wildflower was the cotton grass shown above (or bog cotton as my friend Fi Bird from Uist calls it). Cotton grass, which is actually a sedge, likes “open, wet, peaty ground,” we are reliably informed, in Sarah's book Wild Flowers.

Veg Patch in the Hebrides

Gardens should of course appeal to all the senses and the very strong smell of seaweed did not detract from the experience of the Hebridean Weaver's garden. It was spread around the tiny vegetable patch as a calcium feed and pest deterrent. There was also a bucket of seaweed by the gate, drying perhaps unintentionally in the dry-ish London air.

Seaweed Cornucopia

According to Fi, my island source, drying, rotting seaweed is only good for mulch but the fresh stuff is great to eat. Fi tweets about sea weed blocking her drains and devotes a sizeable chunk of her cookbook (The Forager's Kitchen) to the stuff. “Seaweed has always been a part of the way of life here, from farming on the machair to cooking in the kitchen,” she says. “And the current news is that it's good for you.” Sea lettuce (the green one, above) is a favourite.

Here is a simple recipe for lemon and sea lettuce ice cream, “just right for the beach.” Serves 4-6Fi uses: 3 unwaxed lemons, 200g caster sugar, 450ml single cream, 1 heaped tsp dried sea lettuce Directions:

  1. Finely grate the zest of one lemon and squeeze the juice from three into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  2. Slowly add the cream and sea lettuce mixing carefully – it will thicken.
  3. Churn in an ice-cream maker and serve immediately.

  Thanks for reading,