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Living, Country

A Moment in Thyme: Into the Light

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The changing seasons are the very thing that makes life in the English countryside wonderful…

The contrast of the long dark nights and silvery low-lit days of winter with the bright effervescent days of summertime could not be more stark and have a profound effect on everything around us; from the now slumbering still land, to our own health and wellbeing – in fact our entire way of being.

It is interesting that we often think it is simply the coldness of winter which inhibits growth in the garden, but the hours of sunlight are absolutely critical to plant growth, too. The so-called Persephone period is the time between mid-November and early February when, in the northern hemisphere, there are less than 10 hours of sunlight and little-to-no plant growth occurs. There is simply not enough light for them to generate the needed energy. The name refers to the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of harvest in Greek mythology who was banished to the underworld during winter and is allowed to return to earth in early spring. Thus daylight returns, and plants start to grow again.

We are now in the new year and well past the winter solstice and over the next few weeks the amount of sunlight each day is increasing as Persephone returns to earth. In the remaining days of winter, we can ponder on the year past and plan excitingly for the one ahead.

A great success story to celebrate at Thyme has been our salad leaves, harvested not only throughout the summer time when long warm days make growing easy but also in the deep mid-winter, when dark days, frosts and rising ground water make life in the garden very challenging. This is when the un-glamourous but much-loved poly tunnel becomes the star. Sheltered from the elements, we have a selection of winter leaves, mustards, rocket, cress and kales that ensure a continued supply through the winter months. 

Particularly exciting are the frost-hardy radicchios and a stand out variety is Treviso; a beautiful burgundy red radicchio from the town of – you guessed it – Treviso, just outside Venice. We have been experimenting forcing the Treviso to create the exquisite curling light seeking leaves that will look so beautiful on the plate in the Ox Barn. I love these bitter pungent leaves of winter, they are so perfect for January and February salads.

Bitterness is a much-underestimated loveliness; a good way to soothe, cleanse, re-fresh the palate and reset the digestion following the rich indulgences of the festive season. We can add the Jerusalem artichoke to this list of seasonal gut-friendly vegetable; delicious in soups, purees and roasted. It is particularly lovely with game. It has a sweet, nutty, earthy flavour and is good for your gut with its high fibre content and indigestible polysaccharide (an extremely effective prebiotic to help nurture the gut microbiome).

And thinking of our winter wellness, light is not only essential for plant growth, it is inextricably linked to our own wellbeing. Amongst the many benefits, sunlight triggers the brain to release the hormone serotonin which boosts mood and instils feelings of calm, promoting both happiness and better sleep.

Opening on Saturday 10 February, just as Persephone returns to earth, we are delighted to present an exhibition in partnership with the Lyndsey Ingram gallery: As Chosen By … Part II, the second solo show of Kate Friend's photographic portrait series.

The photographs are shot exclusively on medium format film. In these portraits, her ‘sitters’ are flowers or plants, each one selected by a recognisable public figure or creative, who is then re-cast through a plant of their choosing. Friend’s approach to the making of this series is a rigorous one: a single flower and vessel, chosen by an individual, is shot in natural light at their home, studio or garden. Each photograph is as much a portrait of a place as it is a portrait of a person and a flower. The coloured background for each image is selected by Friend, with the choice driven both by the aesthetic of the chosen flower and by a deeper intuitive sense of her sitter’s character. Although the methodology is concise and consistent, the resulting variety of images is testament to the array of unique personalities included in the project. 

This celebration of flowers, people and place will help us through the last days of winter when we can still sit by the fire and stay warm making sure we find time for a brisk walk in the winter sunlight with warmer, long green floriferous and sunny days of spring beyond.

Visit us for lunch, art exhibition and spa at Thyme.


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