Orange mint and Strawberry mint are some of the first plants to catch my eye as I walk around Edinburgh’s latest secret attraction with owner Hamish Martin. The Secret Herb Garden in the rural Pentland area is indeed a hidden gem, away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby city. The mention of the word secret tells me I want to be part of it and believe me, this is definitely a secret worth sharing. I’m excited by these two mints, but Hamish tells me has another 58 varieties of mint in the garden. Can you imagine 60 varieties of mint in the one garden? Being a lover of herbs, this was my child in a sweetie shop moment.
Set over 7.5 acres, the garden is set out on the site of the former Dam head organics. The brainchild of Hamish and Libby Martin, the couple discovered the place when they were house hunting two years ago and at the beginning of May fulfilled their dream when the Secret Herb Garden opened the gates to public. After two years of renovations it really was a dream come true for them.
When I visited, final touches for the opening day were well underway and it was easy to see that as the place evolves, this will be no ordinary garden and nursery. Most of us are familiar with the usual selection of everyday culinary herbs, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme, I grow these in my own garden and constantly use them when I’m cooking. In the Secret Herb garden however, the definition of a herb has a much broader meaning. Here, plants that we might view as weeds, have pride of place.
When I met Hamish at a Slow Food Edinburgh Dinner the previous week, he had given me a glass of Sticky Willy Beer. In my mind a weed, and one that given us hours of pleasure as child as we played the ‘sticky willy game, sticking the plant to each other’s backs. And here was I drinking a delicious beer and eating a tasty sticky willy salad. How times change!
The Secret Garden is the perfect haven of peace and tranquillity.Visitors will find a warm welcoming place, set out to ensure there’s space for everyone. A retreat where people can relax and enjoy the moment, being among herbs and aromatic plants.
It might be a secret garden but nothing is hidden away. A cafe, tastefully designed by Libby will be stocked with homemade cakes, salads, from the garden and other locally sourced food.
Picnic baskets can be filled with fresh food from the cafe and enjoyed outside, or on the comfy sofa’s that look completely at home, dotted around greenhouse. There are open and relaxing spaces for everyone to unwind.
Interestingly the nursery has been established with a helping hand from one of the country’s leading herb experts. The mother stock came from the South Gloucestershire garden of Hamish’s friend and leading herb specialist Jekka MacVicar. There’s also an emphasis on specialist Scottish herbs with stock from the Poyntzfield herbs on the Black Isle in the north of Scotland.
Hamish has an infectious enthusiasm for herbs and there are some plants that some visitors will find unusual. Chick weed and nettles, weeds you may think, but a visit to the Secret Garden will make you think again. How often have you pulled them out, casting the plants aside as a nuisance. Every plant has it’s place and as far as Hamish is concerned, weeds are just plants in the wrong place.
Most can can be included in salads and many are amongst the selections of the popular herbs the Secret Herb Garden supply to a number of Edinburgh restaurants. You’ll also find the Secret Herb Garden stall at the Sunday Stockbridge Market.
Walking through the garden, the greenhouses and the raised beds you’ll find an exceptional range of varieties of different herbs. Twelve varieties of Rosemary, several varieties of sage and there’s even a cola pelargonium, and yes, the smell is just like the sweet and sugary drink.
There are so many different connections to the plants throughout the garden. An enormous old fuel tank has been cleverly converted to house a therapy room that will be used by a herbalist and aromatherapist. A magnificent Esse stove has been installed in the building housing the school and eventually this will be the base for a number of courses, including herbalism, cookery and making cosmetics, all with natural links to the onsite source of herbs. Also within the school area is a drying room where herbs and flowers can dry on hessian covered trays at the optimum temperature of 37 degrees.
Beyond the main herb garden an orchard has been planted with traditional Scottish apple trees, pears and medlars. At the far end of the orchard, there are several bee hives and the first bee keeping course, under the expert eye of bee keeper, Brian Pool has already been held.
There’s so much going on at the Secret Herb and there’s no doubt that this is a garden with all the ingredients to grow and flourish. Libby’s love of vintage furniture is evident in the many pieces of furniture around the place and Hamish’s collection of old gardening tools will all add to the character of this attractive and inspiring place. Opening the garden has fulfilled a dream for Hamish and Libby but as this place progresses I think they will be amazed at how far that dream will take them in their future lives.
My visit has certainly inspired me to expand the range of herbs I grow in my own garden and also to look closely at plants I class as weeds.
The Secret Herb Garden
32a Old Pentland Road
Open every day 10am – 4pm.