Fresh Thinking

Fresh Thinking

A team of inner-city community gardeners recently visited Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for an expert tour around the hotel’s acclaimed kitchen gardens—resulting in a wealth of ideas now taking root.

Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons made its name for the Michelin-starred cuisine of its chef, Raymond Blanc. But now Blanc has created a competing attraction by turning this Oxfordshire country house hotel’s seven-acre estate into a cluster of kitchen gardens and orchards that are a must-see on the English garden circuit. On any one day, visitors from flower fanciers to leading horticulturalists can be spotted strolling dreamily along the paths or studying the artichokes and cherry trees.

Today, a team of inner-city community gardeners has been invited to view the hotel’s vegetable plots and glean fresh ideas to take back home. The eight-strong group, Edible Avondale SE1, from southeast London’s Avondale Square housing estate, is supported by the Big Local South Bermondsey Partnership to transform concrete expanses into plots of nutritious vegetables. With some 46 languages spoken and three-generation unemployment not uncommon here, the group encourages neighbours to grow produce to turn into delicious, healthy meals.

Hotel gardener John Driscoll welcomes the team and introduces Raymond Blanc’s plot-to-plate ethos, whereby a plant is nurtured, harvested, then rushed straight to the stove. Avondale team leader Christina focuses on the hotel garden's crop rotation system, which she immediately decides to introduce for the cabbages, beans and other vegetables currently sprouting under her care. Her colleague, Vinnie, is in the polytunnel, examining the micro-herbs. “We’d like to rear high-value crops like these to sell to local restaurants,” he explains. “It would be a great way to raise funds.”

There is much discussion about the hotel garden's eco credentials: it is British Soil Association-accredited and uses no fertiliser or pesticides. The variety of produce is breathtaking, from “lost” English herbs such as sweet cicely and lovage to sweet Aztec stevia, Peruvian ground apples and Chinese pak choi.

The team arrives at the hotel’s new wildflower meadow, of special interest since the gardeners are creating a similar feature on a bare slope on their estate. They weave past the orchard where 120 varieties of English heritage apples are swelling on young branches and past a field where a vineyard is planned. This truly is a garden of fresh ideas, some of which will surely be reseeded far beyond the hotel’s bounds.

Spring is a wonderful time of year to explore the gardens of Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. Follow in the footsteps of our community team and discover sprouting vegetables and herbs on a private tour, or stroll around at leisure. Then repair to the restaurant to savour these seasonal delights in a Michelin-starred dish.