In the first of our blogs focusing on Porthminster Beach Cafe’s garden, we meet the man responsible for its upkeep and find out what it’s like to garden in this unique location.
Davey plays a crucial role in what we do at Porthminster Beach Cafe, and yet he is rarely seen by guests. It is the more green-fingered diners who find their attention caught by his work in the compact, terraced garden nestled behind the cafe, the source of fresh herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables used every day. This slope was waste ground until a few years ago, when it was transformed with stunning results, principally by Jim and Julie Horn, who’s son was one of the original apprentices in the kitchen. Jim and Julie have since moved onto pastures new, and Davey has taken over the task of nurturing the project.
“It’s a great location in many ways” says Davey, who spends many hours in this green enclave, perched above the beach, with the hustle and bustle of the cafe going on below. However it’s also far from ideal from a horticultural point of view. “The slope is north-facing and there are several large trees at the back which limit sun exposure,” explains Davey. “To an extent I can combat this by planting the most sun-loving plants at the front, where they’ll get the most light. We just have to be careful that these plants don’t grow too high and themselves create shade.” Mint and chives do a little better in shadier spots so they go at the back. A stream runs down the edge of the plot and is the source of watercress for the kitchen.
Towards the front of the slope, thyme, oregano and rosemary take over. “In recent years we’ve moved to more Mediterranean herbs because the soil is sandy and full of rocks. It drains very quickly” says Davey. This can be helped by heavily composting (the garden is organic, and kitchen waste is used to nourish the soil). “We need intensive measures for the courgettes – it’s been the worst year!” Usually Courgette Flowers are a sought-after favourite in the cafe (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, goat’s cheese and pine nuts for example) but this year they’ve been in like gold dust due to the poor weather.
Elsewhere in the garden Davey grows horseradish, wild rocket, jerusalem artichokes, lemon balm and verbena. Colourful chard emerges in springtime and in the winter garlic and shallots from the garden supply the cafe. Fruits include raspberries (red and golden), blackcurrants (the chefs also use the leaves) and wild strawberries. Mustard, thyme and chives flowers, as well as borage, are colourful garnishes for an array of dishes, and Davey plans to introduce more edible flowers next year – nasturtiums and hollyhock for example.
“We’re always changing and trying to find new ways to get the most out of this unique site,” says Davey. “It’s rewarding to see the chefs come up here before service to gather herbs, fruits, flowers and use them straight away.”
If you’re visiting the cafe you’re welcome to take a closer look at our garden and you might be lucky enough to spot a chef or two gathering ingredients for your meal!