Grow Your Own
A foraging we will go… With Chewton Glen's Head Gardener, Darren Venables
Autumn is a lovely time at Chewton Glen because it brings with it an abundant harvest of berries and nuts which are a great opportunity for our kitchens and for Jennifer Williams who forages the grounds to produce bespoke jams, jellies and chutneys for the hotel. But this harvest is also vital to the eco-system we are putting in place here.
Over the last few years when selecting and planting trees in the grounds of Chewton Glen, one of the things I try to consider is making sure that there is a bountiful food source for all the birds and animals that inhabit the grounds, particularly before they hibernate or fly away over winter.
Because Chewton Glen sits at the bottom of a valley, mushrooms are always growing in the longer grass and wooded areas from the end of August until March. They provide a valuable food source for field mice, rabbits, squirrels and deer. To continue to retain a healthy mushroom population on the grounds we leave large areas of leaf litter under the trees in the woodland to retain the moisture in the ground to keep the fungus spores from drying out completely so they spread and multiply successfully. The mushrooms provide many other benefits to the eco-system on the grounds by breaking down dead wood and leaf litter.
The last few years has seen us plant hundreds of dog roses around the grounds, mainly on the edges of the estate in the hedgerows. The flowers make an excellent nectar source for the bees as the pollen is so easy for them to access - important with our ever-expanding bee hive colonies. In addition the beautiful rose hips are a favourite with the larger birds. And a proportion is foraged by Jennifer who turns them into the most wonderful Rose Hip Jelly for the Treehouse Suites’ breakfast hampers. This Jelly not only looks and tastes stunning, but as the rose hips are said to be a very medicinal berry it is extremely nutritious.
Hawthorn, Blackberries, Blackthorns and Bullace Plums
Over the last few years we have been working hard to plant new screens around the hotel boundaries and improve some of the older hedgerows. This winter we will be planting another one and a half kiilometres of hedgerows through the fields. Hedgerows are very important as they provide shelter and nesting areas for birds, and shelter at their bases for mice, hedgehogs voles, and our many pheasants.
The older hedgerows on the grounds are diverse with many different fruiting bushes, including hawthorn, which produces small red berries in autumn that are a real favourite with the smaller birds, feeding on them before flying off to warmer climates for winter. Blackthorns produce small black fruits known as sloes which are quite a bitter taste if you pick and eat them, but birds love them. We also forage these to produce rich, syrupy sloe gin.
Blackberries are one of my favourite fruits in the hedgerows; I love picking and eating them. We have some very old established blackberry bushes which are really good for both Jennifer and the chefs to forage, but they also provide nature with an excellent food source.
The wet winter last year and the beautiful summer this year has produced an explosion in the bullace crops in the fields this year. Bullace are also known as wild plums, and I have never seen as many as there are in the grounds this year. They are very similar in appearance to sloes but about three times the size and they are a very shiny black colour. We should definitely get an abundance of good foraging crops from these this year for both us and the wildlife, there are masses to go round.
The elderflower shrubs and trees around the grounds are mainly used for jam production. Both the flowers and fruits are used by Jennifer. The berries however are a real favourite with the birds. For this reason we currently have lots of new trees growing on in our nursery ready for planting this winter.