Not very far at all from Russell Park, there is a sort of secret garden. It is not ever so secret, because if you are local, you probably walk past it, or through it very regularly. It is easy to forget it is there. But it is worth remembering because as well as being a very pretty garden,and a small oasis of green set in the middle of a busy road junction; it is a very useful garden. It is a community herb garden.
Two of the large flower beds on the roundabout which links Castle Road and Rothsay Road are set aside as a herb garden; organised and cared for by volunteers from the Zero Carbon Castle group. Under the leadership of local residents Lucy Bywater, and Anne Doody, Zero Carbon Castle hold regular working parties to help maintain the garden, and the herbs are available for anyone local to pick and use. The next working party, incidentally, is this Saturday: the 20th April, at 10 am. New volunteers are very welcome to come along! Tools are provided, just bring your own elbow grease...
Lots of herbs grow in the garden, including thyme, mint, rosemary, sage, lavendar and oregano. Anne explained that there is a mix of common herbs, along with some more unusual traditional varieties, such as dyers greenweed: which does exactly what it says it will, and has traditionally been used to dye cloth and wool yellow. Elecampne can be found here too, which is a herb that has been around since Roman times and used to be commonly used as both a medicine and a condiment.
The garden is also home to a selection of mint plants - they even have a chocolate mint (you really can smell the chocolate on it - it's amazing!) Anne and her husband Graham, who were tending the garden when I visited listed some of the other varieties of mint that they are hoping to cultivate, including orange & lemon mint, and ginger mint. The chocolate mint is just starting to grow now, so in a few weeks, as the garden springs to life, you should be able to go and pick some - it's a great way to flavour your ice cream!
The Garden won an award in 2012 - for being the region's best drought/water tolerant garden. Despite the fact that 2012 was the year of rain, rain, and a LOT more rain, (as we at the Kiosk remember all too well... ) the two previous years had been incredibly dry. The herb garden proved very resilient to the dry weather, as the majority of the herbs here are from the Mediterranean, and used to the dry climate. They have also been the runner up twice in the Regional Community Garden awards.
If, like us, you'd like to know more about the herb garden - they are holding an open day on 18th May, from 10.30 until 3pm, with Jane Perrone, Gardening editor of The Guardian - as well as The Bedford Clanger- organising a foraging walk. around the garden. Plants will be for sale on the day; Anne says that she is currently cultivating around 200 on her patio in preparation for the day. There will also be a bee keeper coming along, and representitatives from the Wildlife Trust offering advice on how to make your garden attractive to wildlife. The garden itself is home to several hedgehogs, and the volunteers leave bowls of water out for them, sunk into the flowerbeds. A local childrens' book club will be at the open day too, talking about their favourite wildlife stories. It sounds like a great day to come along and enjoy the garden, as well as taking the opportunity to learn about the work the volunteers do, and what herbs are on offer in the garden. The herb garden is designed to be a community garden - so everybody is welcome to come along and enjoy it!
The herb garden receives no funding, and is entirely run by volunteers. All proceeds from the plant sale at the open day will be used to buy more plants, and to maintain the garden.
Herb of the month at the moment in the garden is chives. Chives are a wonderfully versatile ingredient, and the information board at the herb garden gives you some great ideas for what you can do with them, including mixing them with soft cheese and chopping them into salads. Here are a few other ideas of using chives to spice up some other everyday favourites:
And on the subject of chives, savoury muffins are the next Big Thing due to rock up at The Kiosk. Have you got a favourite savoury muffin recipe? Do you fancy a bit of a Masterchef-style competition, with the winning recipe made up and served up at The Kiosk? If so, get in touch! We'd love to hear from you...more details to follow.
If you'd like to find out more about the Zero Carbon Castle and the community herb garden, you can contact them via facebook, where they are called Abundance Bedford, or email Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org