Anna Greenland Organic Gardener
Meet land Mermaid Anna Greenland, the renowned vegetable gardener and cook at the heart of the organic growing movement.
The descendant of a long line of gardeners, Anna spent three years running double Michelin starred chef Raymond Blanc’s vegetable garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, and is now his horticultural consultant. From model to organic gardener and cook Anna talks about how she found her path, what we can grow at home and what to forage this season.
You started your career as a model. How did you become interested in pivoting towards organic gardening and why is this important to you?
I fell in love with a guy who lived in Cornwall, so left London and modelling to live in a damp little cottage on the Cornish coast! We had a greenhouse and I started growing my own herbs and tomatoes. I got the bug instantly. I think it was in my bones as my mother and grandmother are great gardeners and my Dad is a brilliant home cook. So that interest in plants and fresh produce was there from an early age. It just wasn’t until I had my own garden that I fell in love with it. Organic growing always felt like the natural path to me. I grew up with an appreciation of the natural world and have always wanted to grow in a way that respects that.
For our land-based mermaids interested in growing their own herbs, which ones would you recommend that are easy to grow and reasonably hardy? Are there any herbs that grow all year around or are they seasonal?
For a herb that is hardy and grows year round try Rosemary. It is a great head herb – good for the mind. Students in ancient Rome wore garlands of rosemary around their heads when sitting exams to improve memory! I use it in cooking, teas and home remedies. I make a tonic for my hair with apple cider vinegar (see below re blog link). When I have a headache, rosemary as tea in a hot water infusion is comforting, clearing the fog. The flowers are edible too and I add these to herb butters or salads.
For those without gardens, which are the best herbs to grow in a flat?
Not strictly herbs but I recommend growing pea shoots that you could throw into salads. You only need 1-2” of compost and can use recycled tray from food packaging e.g. what you buy mushrooms in. Just make some holes in the bottom and keep the compost moist. You’ll get two cuts and can reuse the compost. Sow pea seeds quite densely and in a few weeks you’ll have your first crop. Herb wise – Basil, Parsley, Chives and Mint all grow well on a windowsill. Ideally south facing for the basil but the others will tolerate some shade.
We’d love to hear about your personal favourite summer herbs. Which ones are the most aromatic and do you have a refreshing summer drink recipe you can share?
Lemon Verbena is my absolute favourite. It smells of lemon sherbet! I urge everyone to buy it although it is too big for a windowsill. But will grow well in a pot in a sunny spot. It isn’t cold hardy so either bring indoors for winter or cover the soil with a thick layer of compost or fleece once cut back. It is so simple and delicious infused in hot water.
Rose Geranium is also a lovely aromatic plant. You can infuse leaves into milks or creams or fruit syrups to add a wonderful flavour. Both these plants are worth having just for their tactile nature. Once you have them you’ll want to constantly stroke them and they will lift your mood.
I love making Shrubs aka drinking vinegars with fruit, herbs and apple cider vinegar. There is a recipe for a Raspberry Shrub with Lemon Verbena and Rose Geranium on my blog.
We love to forage seaweed, are there any plants that you forage at this time of year? Can you give some advice around this?
Nettles (Urtica dioica) are one my favourite plants to forage. They are nutritional powerhouses. I’ve been making regular batches of nettle soup. It feels so nourishing. Best to harvest nettles when they are young and fresh and take the first 2-3 top sets of leaf and stem. As the summer wares on they start to go woody. But if you have a patch you can nurture in your garden then you can keep cutting them back to get new growth. Nettle seeds from the female plant are also edible. Harvest when green, dry them on brown paper and pass through a sieve to get rid of irritating hairs. Toast in a dry frying pan and use like poppy seeds – they are delicious. But do read up on this beforehand as hairs can be irritating if not prepared correctly.
Do you have any beauty or self-care rituals? What is your favourite way to relax and take care of yourself?
Baths are my favourite way to unwind. I blend various garden herbs – lavender, rose, chamomile, rosemary into epsom salts and hang them in a muslin under the running tap and let it infuse into the bath. If you just chuck in whole herbs they will block your plug hole! I just throw the fresh herbs into a blender or nutri bullet with the salts and pulse until herbs are broken up.
For our Mermaids who are foraging at the moment what should they look out for and what’s in season now?
Elderflowers are just coming into bloom. I make a lovely elderflower vinegar. It couldn’t be easier 500ml of white wine or apple cider vinegar and 3 or 4 elderflower heads. Half fill jar or bottle with the flower heads and then top up with vinegar. Make sure jars/bottles sterilised and all insects have escaped leaves first. Leave in a cool dark place and after a few weeks the vinegar will taste lovely. I tend to preserve herbs in vinegar or honey more so than alcohol. The longer you leave it the stronger the flavour. It has a long shelf life. I’ve had a bottle in the cupboard for year.
Visit Anna’s website and Blog for more recipes and gardening inspiration, below you can find links to her refreshing and zingy Raspberry Shrub and her beautifying Nettle and Rosemary hair tonic:
Raspberry Shrub with Lemon Verbena and Rose Geranium