A chat with Gardener Libby

Many people work to make the Hundred House a unique place to be. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be spending time getting to know them. I hope you’ll enjoy reading what I discover about  the people who make this such a special place to eat, and relax.

Dappled light highlights the blue and yellow planting scheme.

Dappled light highlights the blue and yellow planting scheme.

The gardens at the Hundred House are special. Thirty years of love and caring design have made a tranquil, beautiful environment. This same skilled design allows for productivity, which means we get to enjoy some of the freshest herbs and vegetables possible. It’s such a special space, you might imagine that their wonder is wrought through nothing but magic and dreaming.This is not so. A team of people work to sow, grow, snip and dig, with the goal of keeping our herb stocks full, and our gardens brimming with beauty.

To learn more about it all, I grabbed a coffee with our gardener Libby, to find out how she came to be part of the Hundred House, and what she loves about her role in the garden.

Persuading Libby to have her photograph taken was a challenge! She agreed, if I allowed the Lilies to take centre stage.

Persuading Libby to have her photograph taken was a challenge! She agreed,  but only if I allowed the Lilies to take centre stage.

HH How did you start working for the Hundred House?

Gardener Libby  I started thirty-one years ago. I was employed to help Sylvia, and did everything, from cleaning, to sanding down the tables for the bar. I remember my very first job was having to get all the salt rings from the woodwork on the bar tables!

HH Nowadays, you spend most of your time in the gardens. What sparked this interest?

Gardener Libby I love nature. I love all the things I see. I saw a black toad this morning! It is a special place, and I love to remember Sylvia whilst I’m working in the garden. My favourite place is the Herb Memorial Garden. At the right time of day, there is a certain slant of light through the trees, which I love. 

HH Do you prefer to be in the background?

Gardener Libby  Very much! I love doing the early morning clean, organising the housekeeping team, tending the garden and feeding Donk the donkey and Henry’s dogs.

HH How much has it changed ?

Gardener Libby I remember the Hundred House before the Phillips family came. It was like a working men’s club; cigarettes, beer, darts and dominoes. On Friday afternoons they used to set up a doctor’s surgery for the locals!

HH What is your favourite thing about the Hundred House ?

Gardener Libby My favourite thing is the picture that Sylvia made. It hangs in the bar, and is beautiful. 

Sylvia's picture will soon be joined by work from other local artists.

Sylvia’s picture will soon be joined by work from other local artists, for you to enjoy on your next visit.

It’s fair to say the Hundred House has changed a lot since those days. The loveliest thing about talking to Libby is the obvious love she has for her job, the Phillips family, and the magical gardens. I’m looking forward to getting regular updates from her about the day to day changes, and seeing what she thinks about our new eating space The Garden Room.

I’ll leave the last words to Libby, in the form of a poem she wrote for the time capsule we created when we restored the barn.

A poem to make you smile by Gardener Libby

I am a little Ray of sunshine

Getting all the weeds

Keeping people happy

Tending to their needs

 

I love the early mornings

When I have to clean

Listening to the songbirds

Whilst doing the latrines

 

 

Winters very different

Oh that dam alarm

Dark and creepy, eerie noises

Power don’t go off

Log fires burning

Empty ashes, careful their still hot!

 

I polish, sweep, hoover, dust

I love to scrub the yard,

First impressions are a must so scrub Libby very hard!

 

Into the Donkey stable I go

Sunshine, freezing, hail or snow

Toast for breakfast, hay and straw

Where’s the nuts? Just a little more

 

Take out the muck, sweep them clean

And spray for fleas, they’re real mean

 

Pick the herbs, fresh and quick

Before they drop and look real sick

Rosemary’s good, not into the wood, bay lasts long time

Some fever few flowers Anise, Mint and Thyme,

Stand back and look, yes, they are fine

 

Check on the girls, beavering about no time to chat just give them a shout.

Check they’re ok, no moans or groans or worries

Now, hoover the office, empty the bin, mind the computer! That’s plugged in

 

Pick the beans, tomatoes, cucumbers

Feed the birds whilst summer slumbers

Fleece up all the tender flowers from cold, stormy winter showers

 

Blue cloths, oven cloths all mixed up

Sort them all out, yuk!

Over to Yew Tree to get them washed, then into the dryer, it never stops!

 

Just a few of my daily tasks, to keep me employed is all I ask.

 

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What’s in the garden ?

Flaming June got off to a rather damp-squib like start,  but the rain has been very welcome in the garden. Combine that with glorious sunshine we’ve just had , and it’s fair to say everything in  our garden is  rosey !

So, what’s new  in the garden? Well, the forget-me-nots have been taken out (they self-seed, so they’ll  be just as beautiful again next year), and replaced with Jacob’s Ladder, and Marigolds. Marigolds are a fabulous companion plant. Their scent confuses the beetles and whitefly, and they enhance the growth of basil, courgettes and squash. Add to that the fact that they’re incredibly pretty, and they make the perfect edging for the herb garden.

Happy bedfellows. Marigolds distract pests and help other plants grow!

Happy bedfellows. Marigolds distract pests and help other plants grow!

We also use nasturtium as a companion for our brassicas, cabbage white butterflies love  to eat them, almost as much as they love cabbage. Planting a few rows of Nasturtium as a sacrificial plant means the brassicas have a chance of making it to our kitchen, and to your plate!

Nasturtium seedlings will soon be protecting our Brassicas !

Nasturtium seedlings will soon be protecting our Brassicas .

The flower garden is bursting with colour, red from the poppies, rich blue irises, a plethora of bedding and so many roses Libby can’t count them all. It’s a fabulous time to be here.

Geraniums are just some of the bedding that brightens every nook and cranny of the garden.

Geraniums are just some of the bedding that brightens every nook and cranny of the garden.

Stately Irises dot the borders.

Stately Irises dot the borders.

 

Peonies are the star of the garden in June

Peonies are the star of the garden in June

Of course, June has an abundance of weddings, and our gardens provide some of the table centre pieces. This week the centre pieces have included viola, chives, lemon balm and elderflowers. Almost good enough to eat!

Chive flowers; gorgeous to see,and to savour.

Chive flowers; gorgeous to see,and to savour.

From Herb Garden to House.

From Herb Garden to House.

I’ve really noticed the birdsong this week, it’s always beautiful, but the blackbird has been particularly exuberant this week! I think he’s warning off the woodpeckers.

Can you imagine a more perfect spot ?

Can you imagine a more perfect spot ?

The sight of Donk the donkey grazing, and Henry’s dogs lazing has made me quite sleepy…….it might be time for a nice relaxing G&T amongst the flowers I think.

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Changing Rooms!

Sometimes you just HAVE to buy something, even when you don’t need it! For me it’s “another” flower vase slightly different from all the others! For Stuart it was a tonne (literally!) of centurys old oak!

He spotted these mighty beasts about 3 years ago at Rennew, in nearby Grindle and instantly fell in love with the character and beauty of the grain. He didn’t know what he would use them for, or when, but he felt compelled to make that purchase!At Rennew

Rough & ready pile of wood, how they sat for 3 years until there moment to shine was created!

Fast forward 3 years. We now have plans to transform the Brasserie to The Garden Room. Food and garden artwork from Sylvia Phillips collection will adorn the walls, rehung by the fabulous Mary Elliot, owner of Twenty Twenty Art Gallery in Much Wenlock. Henry & Denise our Gardener are transforming a messy cupboard in to a living wall. There will be lots of little touches to lighten and freshen it up.

But the table weren’t fitting the bill at all, with lovely sewing machine bases but dull and slightly too small tops Then Stuart remembered his pile of oak – still sitting at Rennew.

He hot footed it down to see Graham Manton, Estate Manager for Apley, who very handily happen to have a saw mill in the village, about 300 yards away from The Hundred House! It was agreed that they could indeed divide these HUGE beams into 1 1/2 inch thick planks and the next call was to Joiner Extraordinaire – Matt Allen.

Matt’s been responsible for several Hundred House projects and it was whilst creating the panelled library in Henrys Cottage, he found true love with our Hotel Manager at the time – Netty. After a break away Netty is back at the helm 3 nights a week and Matt has been given the task of making this beautiful wood in to beautiful tables!

So the journey ensues to Apley Mill Sawmill man, Alan must of thought we were mad!

Yard

“You’re having a laugh aren’t you Stuart? That thing through the Mill?!”

They had to be jet washed to try and remove some of the dirt and grit before going through the Saw,

Hosing Down!

 Super Simon & Valdek blasting the beams

Going through - retouhced

Then the moment of truth – can it be done?

After plaining

Well, the sides came off –  now looking a lot better than “old swampy”!

Alan I’m sure cursed more than once whilst pushing these through “they’ve been an absolute swine – God knows how old they are, it’s some of the hardest wood I’ve ever come across and I’ve gone through 4 blades already, we’ve had to order more!”

cut plankHooray! Here’s the “unfinished – finished article” – well done Alan, we knew you could do it!

Still plenty of work to do on them before you’re eating Shropshire’s finest steaks off them – but certainly a very good start!

These are by no means going to be low-cost tables – but they will be strikingly handsome and who knows, around for another few hundred years yet!

 

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Asparagus,asparagus, asparagus.

To me, there is nothing that says British summer more clearly than Asparagus. I imagine it says it in a rather nice, Joanna Lumley type accent too. It’s hard to describe the flavour; fresh, grassy, a faint hint of lemon, and then something that is uniquely Asparagus. I must confess I am a little in love with this little green spear of goodness.

Asparagus-blog-1

 

The asparagus you can experience at the Hundred House has an excellent pedigree, having been grown on Lodge Farm, part of the beautiful Dudmaston Estate, a mere five miles from the Hundred House. Like most of our suppliers, they are a family business, and specialists in what they do. Is it any wonder their produce tastes so wonderful? Add in the bittersweet brevity of the season, and you truly have a dish for a king. And a queen, of course.

Perfection

Perfect

 

Five facts about Asparagus

  1. It can protect your liver. The minerals and amino acids actually help to breakdown alcohol, giving you liver an easier time. Perfect for the start of a long,lazy lunch.
  2. It’s packed with antioxidants, so it can help you retain your youthful good looks.
  3. The official season is from 23rd April to 24th June; it goes past it’s best in heat of summer. Don’t be fooled by unseasonal imitations !
  4. It can be green, purple or white, all with subtly different flavours
  5. It is one of the loveliest things you can eat. *

*this may not strictly be a fact. But it is a jolly nice thing.

And finally (although I could write for days about this little green wonder), a stunner of a recipe, from the Hundred House kitchen

Mezze of Lodge Farm Grilled Asparagus, Beetroot Borrani, with Feta, pickled garlic and Olives

 

Asparagus

We buy our Asparagus from Caroline Lees of Lodge Farm in Quatt .It is normally available Mid-April to mid-June. For this recipe take 8 or so sprigs of Spruce Asparagus, rub with Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper & lemon juice. Drop on to a red hot grill, cook for 2-3 minutes,until lightly charred,then cool quickly to retain the beautiful green colour. Serve with fresh sorrel, land cress, Falafel, Feta, Olives & Beetroot Boriani and grilled Flat breads.

 

To make Beetroot Borani (serves 4)

4 Medium raw bunched beetroot (about 700g)

1 x small clove garlic, crushed to paste using salt

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp strained Greek Yogurt

2 tbsp Good quality aged red wine vinegar & pinch of sugar

50g Feta, crumbled

Wash beetroot (don’t peel), put in pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender (top up water if required, when ready a knife should go through easily, approx 40 minutes). Drain & cool then blend in food processor (if you prefer texture don’t over blend).

Transfer in to a bowl, add garlic, yogurt, vinegar & pinch salt – mix.

Check seasoning and enjoy!

 

 

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