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Garden Visit: The Kitchen Gardens at The Pig Hotel, Combe

The Pig at Combe is the newest addition to hotelier Robin Hutson’s collection of casual, luxurious boutique hotels in the south of England. It has been booked since.

Photography by Will Venning, except where noted.

Above: Photograph courtesy of The Pig Hotel.

In Combe, Hutson and his wife Judy have de-formalized a grade I listed Elizabethan Manor house just outside the Devonshire village of Gittisham in the dreamy Otter Valley.

Above: Photograph courtesy of The Pig Hotel.

The Pig’s signature decorative–mismatched vintage furniture, roaring fires,  casual dining rooms, and amazing original attributes–has formed a faithful following of mini-breakers keen to tick off a stay at each of the five properties. But as important as the vast beds, heavy floral couches, and bespoke minibars, are the kitchen gardens. “They really are the beating heart of every resort,” says Ollie Hutson, senior gardener round the properties (and Robin and Judy’s son). We take a tour of the latest transformation …

Above: The kitchen garden at Combe was implanted only six short months ago, in March 2016. “Like all our projects, this was about doing justice to the gardeners who have come before us,” says Ollie.   It is a decree  they take seriously at Combe, not since gardener Ron Hutchinson, age 70, continues to be used at Combe House, the final in a very long line of Hutchinsons who’ve worked the territory here.

“We crop three hundred  days a year. There is not a day that we do not work in the garden,” Ollie clarifies. The planting and harvesting program is rigorous, using the head fighter walking the gardens every couple of days to ascertain exactly what produce is at its summit, adjusting the menu so. What cannot be plucked directly from the grounds is sourced from within a 25-mile radius. What’s not served in the dining room is pureed or bottled and tucked from the pub.

Above: During the landscaping, over  2,500 plants were saved and re-positioned and two of the first Victorian greenhouses were revived. Chillies, aubergines, and peppers grow into one; a Victorian vine flourishes in the other. A lemon tree stays beneath the vine, its fruit currently steeping in bottles of vodka behind the resort pub. Even the “lemon drop” chillies have been utilised to bring some warmth to Bloody Marys (a stick of red-stemmed celery functions as an edible stirrer).

Above: Each morning, the anglers deliver trays of carefully considered fresh produce to the kitchen, including just-picked edible blossoms. Marigolds, white and blue cornflowers, and whitened borage blossoms are strewn upon diners’ plates frozen into ice cubes for gin and tonics.

Above: A thickly planted polytunnel homes six kinds of hardworking, legacy tomato plants from Sea Spring Seeds and the actual Seed Catalogue.

Above: The vegetable beds are filled with British stalwarts: leeks, ‘Crapaudine’ beetroot (“that the earthier the greater”), kabocha and ‘Table Star’ squash, three types of courgette, and forced rhubarb. Additionally, there are more experimental plants growing for example blossom ‘Fiesta’ candy corn, oyster crops, and sea kale.

In the vast fruit cage are green and red gooseberries, raspberries, tayberries, black and red currants, ‘Gariguette’ and ‘Mara des Bois’ berries, as well as the white number ‘Alpine’, that can be seen peeping through the net at floor level.

Above: All of garden fruits–including such mulberries–are all simmered to shape purees for seasonal Bellinis or sandwiched between layers of sponge and served in afternoon tea.

Above: Under the recognized espaliered quince, apple, and plum trees are eight forms of mint. Ollie’s greatest passion is herbs. In Combe, he has planted a candy store of flavors: blackcurrant, tangerine, and lemon sage in addition to lemon and chocolate mint, which is used behind the pub for a garnish for chocolate martinis. Lemon verbena and lavender are all transformed into syrups for cocktails and desserts.

Above: Out the two treatment rooms–that have been transformed from an old potting shed–is a walled infusion garden where guests may pick from a menu of new infusions like peppermint and eucalyptus balm, rosemary and ginger, lemon verbena or sage and honey.

Above: Photograph courtesy of The Pig Hotel.

The Edwardian folly has been semi-restored into an indoor-outdoor pub and casual area for tea, cake, wood-fired flatbreads, cigars, or cocktails.

Above: A old boiler that has been found during the recovery has been converted into a smoker. Within the chilly smoker I found a tray of sea salt for those tables, and a giant bunch of smoked sage destined for a jar of infused vodka.

Above: In the front corner of the kitchen garden can be a massive coop of highly productive quails. Each day, their eggs have been collected and turned into one of those Pig’s signature pub snacks: mini hock quail eggs using Coleman’s dressing table. My daughter, Betsy, aided gather the eggs, and devoured them afterwards at the pub with a glass of pureed plums, soda water, and crushed ice. I  ended the   tour with a sour garden cocktail (see recipe below).

Sour Garden Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 50 ml citrus-infused vodka
  • 15 Steak homemade lavender and lemon verbena syrup
  • 15 ml fresh lime and lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • Ice
  • Angostura bitters

Combine the vodka, syrup , and juice and shake with egg white and ice cream. Drink a lavender sprig and bitters in a Hobster glass.

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