Gardens can provide all the right ingredients for a flavoursome dish

Monty Don at the Allianz Garden Show Ireland last year.
Monty Don at the Allianz Garden Show Ireland last year.

Garden Show Ireland takes place this weekend at Antrim Castle Gardens, just on the outskirts of the town.

The Skeffington family occupied this imposing setting on the banks of the Sixmilewater river from 1610. A fire destroyed the actual castle in 1922 but the gardens have been lovingly restored and are the ideal location for this world class horticultural event.

Friends of Antrim Castle Gardens are a volunteer group that are responsible for the heritage garden here. It’s landscaped in the Anglo-Dutch style in keeping with how a typical country house kitchen garden would have been in the 1700’s. There’s an aromatic raised bed with oregano, angelica, chervil, rosemary, borage and sage among the varieties grown. Their medicinal bed includes feverfew, lovage, comfrey, lemon balm and wormwood. Herbs have been used to treat ailments for thousands of years. The Greek doctor Hippocrates noted 400 herbs in general use in the 5th century. In 1597 John Gerard wrote of “Syrupp made of the floures of borrage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy and quieteth the phrenticke or lunaticke person” in his book “General Historie of Plantes”. Nowadays we use borage to garnish a traditional Pimm’s Cocktail. Its cornflower blue hued flowers are a lovely aromatic garnish to salads and desserts too.

When you buy herbs in supermarkets the options are limited and frankly a bit boring. When you grow herbs yourself, you open up a whole new world of sense, taste and colour. I’m no gardener but the lovage in a pot, at my back door, is flourishing despite my neglect – the wet weather here isn’t all bad...The herb itself has a taste like a slightly bitter, intense celery and is a great addition to tomato based recipes or as a dressing on its own. Danni Barry, the talented head chef of Michelin starred Deane’s Eipic restaurant in Belfast served it as part of a salad with beetroot and eel as part of a dinner we were both cooking at for a recent tourism event. The fragrant almost citrusy lovage cut through the earthy beetroot and eel perfectly. You won’t find this herb suffocated in a plastic bag in the herb section of a conglomerate, but imagine the balmy addition it would make to your outside space?

Angelica or “herb of the angels” is a fern like, sweet herb. Traditionally the stalks were candied as a garnish for cakes. Angelica and rhubarb are now both serendipitously in season together and in tandem with flavours as well. Now the temperature has reached double figures it’s time to splash out the ices. Rhubarb makes a wonderful sorbet in its own right but the addition of angelica takes it to another level in my first recipe.

My other recipe this week is for a chicken and lovage pie. Creamy chicken, zingy lovage encased in buttery pastry – hot or cold there’s nothing better.

I’ll be cooking at Garden Show Ireland today and tomorrow I’m joined in the kitchen by herb guru, Jilly Dougan. Come and say hello!