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In the garden with Xanthe Gladstone

“I remember so vividly going out to our vegetable plot where I grew up in Scotland and eating carrots that we had just pulled out of the ground. I remember the taste so well, that sweet taste of a carrot that tastes like a completely different vegetable to the ones you buy in a supermarket ... Our vegetable garden didn’t last long because it was ravaged by deer and rabbits ... but it influenced the direction I decided to take my career.”

A few years later, Xanthe Gladstone, now 24, is back growing carrots in that same rabbit infested garden, dividing her time between Glen Dye in Kincardineshire, her family’s other home Hawarden in North Wales and London, combining growing vegetables with cooking and writing recipes. She is one of a new generation of young people recognising the ways in which the current system of industrial food production is not working, with the energy and borderline obsession to do something to change it. Just two years ago, newly graduated from Edinburgh University, Xanthe was following a much more conventional career path for a recent graduate - she was in an office job working on marketing for food and drinks companies.

Very quickly though she realised that being inside, sitting still and working at a desk were making her unhappy. She retreated home to rural Wales to rethink her career and then to Ireland to take the legendary Sustainable Food Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The course is taught by Darina Allen and a host of internationally acclaimed teachers - over six weeks it covers organic growing, climate change, food waste, nutrition, foraging - a modern, evidence based, food culture that harks back to traditional methods and skills. It is a course that fosters understanding of the link between the farm and the plate with an emphasis on sustainable growing and eating, a course that aims to reset the broken system of food production.

“By far the most important thing I have taken from the course is learning from the ferocious passion that the whole team of teachers bring to the school. Learning to question the system, to stick to your beliefs and to value proper quality food. We close our eyes too often to understanding the journey that food has made to get to our plates.”

Back in the gardens, Xanthe is deep in mud, creating lasagne raised beds and planning her crops, seeing what will grow in enough quantities to sustain a business. In Wales she has a beautiful, if previously underused, Victorian walled garden to play with, but in Kincardineshire her plot is on top of an unsheltered hill.

“I have chosen to grow similar vegetables in both places, so seeing how the different climates affect how they grow and how they taste is going to be a fascinating experiment.”

The food itself is destined for the various Gladstone family businesses - the holiday cottages at Glen Dye, Hawarden Farm Shop and The Good Life Experience festival in Flintshire - as well as for Xanthe’s own restaurant project, a pop-up supper club in London called Knuckle which she runs with her boyfriend Hugo Ross.

At present they get their produce from the organic vegetable sellers Abel and Cole and the aim is to gradually supplement that with home grown - knowing the exact provenance from seed to plate, closing the gap between grower and eater.

Xanthe is a great fan of the American chef Dan Barber, writer of the book The Third Plate, who has campaigned for ‘Farm to Table’ style restaurants to evolve much further.

Rather than cherry picking the most conventionally highly prized ingredients, he encourages chefs to look at the food that is being underused or wasted along the way. The more unfashionable cuts of meat, the less glamorous vegetables, the parts that would be thrown out. For me this holistic view of ingredients is something that is much more likely to happen when there is a true connection between the growing and the cooking. It is obviously something we get on an individual level when we grow things to cook, but it has been missing from a lot of restaurant food, even the restaurants which put great emphasis on provenance. The browsing of a farmers market selection or the visiting of a farm is good sourcing, but it is not the same as actually growing things and knowing them.

Personally I think all chefs should have a stint tending growing things as part of their training. I believe it transforms a relationship to food – it fosters a generosity with ingredients, a lavishness with herbs and greens, but also a care and respect. The knowledge of how frost and rain and soil affect flavour, when to harvest for specific subtle changes of tastes – these things can’t be learned from bought ingredients, only from grown.

Xanthe is spreading these passions through community projects too - from being a gardening ambassador in primary schools to organising a farmers market for local producers within the walled garden at Hawarden.

There are bees and chickens and a great love of making things from scratch, digging around for the ways things have been done for generations and re-interpreting them for contemporary tastes. Xanthe has a wonderfully evocative Instagram feed, full of vegetarian recipes with vegan versions - and she has given us her recipe for Radish and Carrot Kimchi.

Photo Kinvara Gladstone

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A few people have asked for a list of the restaurants in Hvar that we loved best. To be honest we didn’t have a single bad meal - the food is beautifully sourced and cooked, informal, seasonal delicious. But there were a few places that were particularly good. 

First if you are flying into Zadar airport and have time to spend in the town then @konobastomoricazadar is worth a visit. The cuttlefish and chickpea soup/stew was the best thing I’ve eaten this year. 

In Hvar itself @konobamenego is a cosy restaurant with a great menu of traditional food, including vegetarian options, we shared a plate of marinated fish (eel I think) and then I had courgettes and aubergines in a sweet and sour sauce prepared to a family recipe. Go early as once they are full that’s  it, there is no squashing in extra sittings, the kitchen staff need time off. I loved this. 

Our nearest town was Stari Grad and we lived @antikastarigrad - tables set outside so we could people watch, great food. Celery and smoked mussel soup with pine nuts 👌🏻

The dog is the photo was snapped at #konobahumac - a deserted hilltop village which featured in last week’s Friday film. There is a small restaurant with a wood fired kitchen - you can either order 24 hours in advance for traditional dishes cooked under a dome or have simple grilled meats and salads. Simplicity is wonderful. 

I’ll continue this in the comments.
Back from holiday, looking a little less frazzled than my pre-holiday photo and I'm trying to keep it like that (which is why Instagram posts are now in the afternoon - I'm reading in the morning).
In this week's Friday film I talk about the difficulty that I've always had in not working while on holiday and why that is a great mistake and what changed this year.
For me getting proper rest is important for living my best life.  It isn't a sneaky productivity trick - I don't want to rest on holiday so that I can work more efficiently when I get home.  I want to rest so that I can feel more alive, stand taller, be more vibrant.
I've also added in a film of the sea, a courtyard garden and a deserted hilltop village to show you why Hvar is one of the best places to go if you need a little relaxation.  The link is in stories.

#hvar #mudridolac #smallbusiness
This is a woman who is about to head off on holiday but has packed absolutely nothing.

Today’s Friday film is out - I’ll post the link in stories - and it’s all about why I’m deleting social media apps while I’m away, what is the kind of ‘work’ that I find revitalising on holiday and what stops me relaxing. And a tour of what I actually do day to day (minus the boring bits). 

Here till 5pm today and then away for a couple of weeks. 

Knitting is #heirloomquiltcardigan by @katrynseeburger
I seem to have spent this year writing about plants that have turned out to not be what they were meant to be . .  but that I have grown to love more than whatever it was I thought I wanted.

There were meant to be Hopi black dye sunflowers, Tceqa' Qu' Si, (Helianthus annuus macrocarpus). They clearly are not.

I've never actually grown giant sunflowers - and these tower over the sweet pea tunnel, gawky, heads bowed.

I love them.  The birds will love them even more.
I'm not really a person who is very good at theory.  I'm not enthused by swatches.  I was never good at experiments in science class.

I mean I appreciate the science in botanical dyeing, and I really, really appreciate the people whose brains work that way, but it just isn't me.

I love the process but even more I love the result.

I think that the most obvious example of this is the ongoing knitted blanket - three stripes from every plant that I try dyeing with in the garden.  A record of sorts. The best I can do.

At the moment a lot of the dyeing and making and embroidering that I do is centered around clothes - bought second hand and made more beautiful. I'm inspired by @prophet_of_bloom and @thedogwooddyer and they way they wear their creativity.

I've bought this silk camisole from Vinted (it was described as vintage but I refuse to believe that the 1990s are vintage). I've now dyed it with fresh indigo for my younger daughter, a mermaid blue, gently mottled teal.

The photos of the process are up on my blog - last night I gave it another coat of leaves so I am now waiting for it to dry to check the colour before I post it to Katie.

#botanicaldye #naturaldyeing #prelovedclothes
In the early summer this rose - nicknamed the
This week's all about managing my energy - I go on holiday in a week and traditionally I've been terrible at pacing myself in the run up to a break.
Everything seems to get out of hand and pile up on my desk, leaving me exhausted and crabby. 
This year I'm determined not to let that happen so I'm building in plenty of the things that I know buoy me up into my days - rest, creativity, nature.
The rest and the making are being combined in making squares for the Heirloom Quilt Cardigan - a wonderful pattern by @katrynseeburger - which I'm knitting in a linen/bamboo yarn that I botanically dyed a couple of years ago and have been hoarding ever since.
You can see what I'm on about in stories . . . .
Often people tell me that they would love to learn to dye with plants but they don't have a garden, or they worry about foraging for plants or that they run out of time and never get around to it.
I completely get that. I am the same.  Life is busy and unless things are easy I often let the desire slide.
It is why I am spending time each day drying out the dye plants that I grow here and packing them up into sealable envelopes - each decorated with a drawing.
I want to make it easier for people to try out botanical dyeing with a wider range of plants than is generally available.  So far I've been packing up willowherb and dahlia flowers alongside the more traditional marigold and dyer's chamomile.
I'm not completely sure what form this will all eventually take - kits that make everything easy perhaps, possibly a 'workshop in a box' kind of thing.  I'm currently trying to work out all the practicalities while prioritising making sure the flowers and leaves are packaged properly so that they won't spoil while I work out the details.
At some point, if you are on my newsletter list, you will no doubt get an email with some questions in it! 
But in the meantime let me know what you think - what would you value in a botanical dyeing kit? Help me make something that will inspire people to create something beautiful.

#dyersofinstagram #botanicaldye #botanicaldyersofinstagram #tagetesdye

About Snapdragon Life

At Snapdragon Life I help bring the changing seasons into your daily life, helping you slow down, so that you can experience increased well being, calm and creativity.

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