Posted by: Naomi Slade | August 1, 2011

Big fish, botanicals and an Isle of Wight pickle frenzy

The red squirrels wouldn't stay still

Cornfield annuals at The Garlic Farm

This is the second post mentioning garlic in a short while, but I make no apologies. Having harvested nearly 150 bulbs of the stuff and finding myself in its spiritual home, the Isle of Wight (yachting eat your heart out) I had to go and visit the fabled garlic farm.

And jolly good fun it was too. A farm walk took us around the acreage and because they plant it on a seven-year rotation, there are fields of other stuff too: sweet corn surrounded by sunflowers, an asparagus-crown crop neatly takes up a couple of years at least and there are spreads of pretty wildflowers such as corn marigolds, corn flowers, poppies and corncockle. Horseradish also runs wild – and judging by the pickle enterprise quite a lot of it gets cropped and consumed. And, highlight of the trip, there are red squirrels.

The garlic experience is a room full of fascinating facts and about 20 different preserves that you can scoff to your heart’s content. Vampires be warned. A history section photographically records local habitation while there are flint arrow heads and a replica of a bracelet that Time Team found on a Roman lady who had managed to get herself stuck under a wall during an ancient skirmish.

Sadly they couldn’t fit us in the restaurant, so after pressing our noses against the glass for a bit we consoled ourselves with Rhubarb and Garlic ice cream. Just one between the six of us, though. We are not quite that brave.

We left cheerfully, weighed down with garlic goodies and, feeling slightly pungent, headed for Ventnor Botanic Gardens. Built on the site of a Victorian sanatorium, the balmy microclimate is as good for plants as it is for invalids and it was such a hit with the family (abandoned to Botanic indoctrination while I went on a secret mission the previous day) that they insisted that we went back to show me all the wonders. It may not be as manicured and well-labelled as Kew, but it is fun and varied with lots of cool stuff and it is also free to get in, which is a bonus.

The lizards wouldn't stay still either

Unreal Eucomis

Our botanic garden top ten reads:
10. Agapanthus – ‘those exploding flowers a bit like alliums but not’
9. Bamboo tunnel (cue panda song)
8. Hydrangeas like Queen Mother’s hats
7. The sub-tropical garden
6. Fantastic cake (cream tea, chocolate brownie, carrot cake…earl grey)
5. REALLY big fish
4. A tree that looks like a pineapple
3. Exploding cucumbers (Hey kids! look at these I think they’re…!!Ouch!!!)
2. Pineapple lilies (They’re not actually real?)
1. Lizards – loads of them scampering around in the rocks

Ventnor Botanic Garden – so good we went there twice.

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