Urban Gardener: Special brew

Back in the days when I used to build and maintain gardens, much of the job satisfaction depended on tea. A job was often remembered not by how pleasant the people were to work for or how stunning the garden was, but by the quality of the brew (especially if we were fortunate enough to have a client willing to do the honours).

Quality rather than quantity was always more important, although one client, whose lawn I used to cut on a regular basis, didn't offer me a cup of anything for almost three years – it's a wonder I stayed so long. At the other extreme, another would give us refills literally minutes after the mug was empty, the consequence being far too much time spent either chatting or waddling to the loo. And then there was Richard Hill, a kind and anxious-to-please client, more than generous when it came to tea breaks, but with a terrible habit of talking during the process and forgetting that the kettle had boiled some minutes before pouring the water into the pot, the resulting tepid and poor excuse for a beverage having to be poured discreetly away. Despite being a thoroughly nice bloke, his name unfortunately became a bench-mark for tea of unacceptable quality to a point where "Heard from Richard Hill lately?" became code for "Blimey! The tea's awful! Let's finish the job and scarper!"

These seemingly irrelevant reminiscences are largely due to a client asking whether her Camellia sinensis (the shrub that supplies the world's green and black tea market) can be grown outside. For a minute I wondered whether Dick Hill had met his match – was I about to wait not just for a shrub to grow but for the leaves to be picked and fermented before standing any chance of a decent cuppa? But happily my fears were unfounded.

Like most camellias, C. sinensis requires acid soil (around pH4.5) but is less frost tolerant and generally it can only be successfully over-wintered in a cold greenhouse or conservatory. However, it is increasingly being planted in the moist, temperate climes of Cornwall so it's not impossible to imagine that the plant might be grown more widely in this country if climate change predictions hold true. My advice to said client (whose soil was just on the acid side of neutral) was to plant it in a sheltered, semi-shaded position near the house and be extra generous with the leaf mould.

Attaining a mature height of 15m, the shrub is kept to a comfortable picking height of one metre in the tea plantations of China and India. The shrub would need to be at least three years old before the leaves can be picked. Green tea is made from steamed and dried leaves whereas the more popular black tea must be fermented and dried before using. Too much hassle if you ask me, especially as there are so many other herbs from which you can make a good drink.

I've never been overly fond of herb teas – the sickly-pungent, fruity ones, like watered-down Ribena, being my least favourite. But the herb farmer Jekka McVicar re-booted my taste buds at the Chelsea Flower Show one year, first by serving rosemary tea (as a pick-me-up) and then lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to improve the memory – a useful tonic when it comes to introductions on Gala Night, as any hardened exhibitor will tell you. Some might baulk at having to make space for such common plants in a small garden, so if you really want to impress your friends, the Rolls-Royce of lemon-flavoured herbs is, without a doubt, lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla), said to be good for the nervous system and therefore recommended as a de-stress tonic. At home the leaves from our lemon verbena were harvested just before the recent frosts and dried for use throughout the winter.

My favourite combination at the allotment is a mixture of lemon verbena, rosemary and mint. The benefits may be slightly conflicting (a de-stressing stimulant that's also good for flatulence – getting rid of it, not causing it, that is), but believe me, it tastes great.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all