The kitchen garden experts: the seasonal secrets of celebrity chefs and their gardeners

How do our favourite TV chefs guarantee the finest ingredients? Raymond Blanc, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Simon Rogan and other celebrity chefs spill the beans in a new book, Kitchen Garden Experts.
Using fresh, seasonal produce is what great food is all about, which is why many of the country’s top chefs liaise closely with the growers of their own kitchen gardens.
“It was thrilling to see how the best in the business ensure their productive plots fuel their innovative, award-winning kitchens,” says foodie and veg grower Cinead McTernan, who took a gourmet tour around 20 of the finest veg plots in the land, gleaning growing tips and recipes from both cook and gardener, before collating them in a new book, Kitchen Garden Experts.
Kitchen Garden Experts (Frances Lincoln) by Cinead McTernan costs £20, but Homes & Property readers can buy the book for £15 including p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code APG 138.

 Thus we learn that in the glorious two-acre heirloom vegetable garden at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, where, in summer, about 200 of the Nero di Milano courgette flowers are used in the kitchens daily, head gardener Anne-Marie Owens sows spinach and radish every 10 days from mid-spring to midsummer to ensure constant supplies, then replaces summer radishes with the winter variety.

Blanc’s preferred tomato varieties include Roma, Marmande and San Marzano; Owens recommends giving each plant as much space as possible, supporting them with canes and pinching out the growing tips when they reach six feet. To aid pollination, she taps the plants when they are in flower.


Edible bouquet: Le Manoir’s courgette flowers are stuffed with peas and mint
Treat them mean and keep them keen is the philosophy at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s celebrated River Cottage, one of the most visited — and televised — veg plots in the country. Grower Craig Rudman believes in watering only when necessary. “If needed, water very heavily but infrequently. Grow hard — by providing little extra water or nutrition, plants are able to withstand pests and diseases better than soft, pampered ones. Make the soil and the plants do the work.”
At Padstow Kitchen Garden, where grower Ross Geach supplies all Rick Stein’s Cornish eateries, they take no chances — all the crops are grown under horticultural mesh. “It is worth the initial outlay as it helps to create a microclimate either by warming up the soil early or bringing on crops,” explains Geach. “It also lets in rain and sun while protecting plants from pests.”


Padstow pair: gardener Ross Geach and development chef Jack Stein
The River Cafe’s potager is all in large pots that are set among the outside diners, so no horticultural mesh can be used, as everything is on show. The marine-ply containers are on coasters, a smart move that means gardener Simon Hewitt can shift them around to give sun-loving plants the best growing positions through the year.

In shade, he grows sorrel, a key ingredient in The River Cafe’s frittatas, soups and salads. It provides a sharp and distinctive lemon flavour, and is easy to grow from seed in early spring or early autumn. Another bonus is that, as a perennial, it will keep growing from year to year.


Plot to plate: gourmet carrots from Simon Rogan at L’Enclume, Cumbria
Though Sir Terence Conran has plenty of room in the walled potager at Barton Court, his Hampshire home, in which to supply restaurants such as Shoreditch’s The Albion and Tate Modern, he prefers to grow chillies, sweet peppers and aubergines in 25cm pots. “A restricted root space will encourage plants to produce a heavier and healthier crop,” he advises.

Other tips from Conran and head gardener Jonathan Chidsey include growing, in summer, baby leeks instead of spring onions, conveniently leaving them to grow in a clump, and sowing climbing courgette Black Forest if you are short on space. “Vertically grown courgettes are much easier to pick than those on bushy plants, so you will not end up overlooking some of the fruits.”
  • To see recipes from the book, including The River Cafe’s sorrel frittata and Conran’s leeks vinaigrette, visit

Kitchen Garden Experts (Frances Lincoln) by Cinead McTernan costs £20, but Homes & Property readers can buy the book for £15 including p&p by calling 01903 828503 and quoting code APG 138.

Photographs: Jason Ingram

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