Sara Dixon has just had her one year Rhino anniversary! Please toot your kazoos, let off your party poppers and shower her in a fragrant confetti of coriander leaves, in celebration. Sara is the woman behind Hawkwell Herbs, a business local to us in Norfolk, dedicated to the veneration and experimentation of Herbology (I feel certain she would have made a wonderful Professor Sprout). A teacher, a beekeeper and community supporter, Sara has been so kind as agree to share her knowledge with us - and you - so that we might all learn a bit more about her world. But before we get on to that, it is only right and proper that we introduce Sara, with a good old-fashioned Q&A.
Have you always been a gardener?
No. And in fact, I do not see The Herbs (capitalised, for that is their title) as being about gardening. I see The Herbs as ingredients - fresh, healthy, easy to come across, good value ingredients for food. Sowing, growing, and keeping them alive is merely a means to an end. I try to reassure people that they do not need to be brilliant gardeners to keep herbs. My tips are therefore focused on simple ways to garden. In order to have herbs that can encourage people to cook fresh, simple, easy, good value food.
I did train to be a gardener - just like I trained to be a lawyer and then a management consultant. I worked for a year in a private garden where I was taught all about how to garden.
What’s the ethos behind Hawkwell Herbs?
I wanted to do something to make a difference in society - in my own small way. My former careers brought to my attention folk who did not know how to cook easy, fresh, healthy, good value meals. Too many of us use supermarkets with no understanding of where our food comes from. We pay over the odds because we do not know how to shop locally, grow our own, work with nature and the seasons. So, for me, growing herbs for cooks is a way of getting people to cook. The cookery lessons I deliver are about giving people interest, confidence and information about how to cook seasonally and locally. And we do cover how to grow and keep herbs too.
I try to make a 'triple bottom line' impact - which means I try to make a positive environmental, social and economic impact in my local community. It is why I sell herbs at Farmers' markets and not online. It is why I deliver cookery courses in my local village hall so that the income goes back into the community. It is why I will always give, at the request of charities, free pots of herbs and recipes to those who are struggling to keep their families in food. A simple herb, say Oregano, sprinkled in with a tin of baked beans provided by a food bank means that somebody who puts that herb in that pan with the beans can feel in some small way that they are in charge of what they feed their family. That they have made that food for their family.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
After my Rhino (of course!), my favourite place is Pakistan. I grew up in Poland (in the days of the Iron Curtain), Switzerland, Kenya, Malaysia and Pakistan. All of which had different plants, gardens, food, societies, religions. I was a young adult in Pakistan and I remember tastes, smells, amazing flavours, beautiful scenery and that almost every house had a herb or a spice plant outside. In most of the countries in which I grew up, it was very much a case of, "Come in, whatever we have to eat, you are welcome to share it with us". It was about the welcome we give to people we do not know. The sharing we do with others, even when we have little ourselves.
What other interests do you have?
Animals! My husband and I have 3 dogs, 3 ducks, numerous ex-battery hens. I and a friend also keep bees.
I love cooking - of course - and am always making and testing recipes to go with The Herbs. My husband's aunt, a cookery teacher, left me her World War One (and onwards) cookbooks, so I am always looking at those and noting the herbs that were used.
What are your gardening aspirations?
To grow herbs well, and to show others how to grow them. To get rid of using Latin names (except for the purposes of identification where there is confusion! - which is hard for an ex-lawyer to advocate!). To show folk that you do not need to be of a certain age, with stout shoes and a booming voice to be able to garden well! You do not need fancy equipment or even a garden. That ANYBODY can grow herbs just as much as ANYBODY can be a cook. The two go hand in hand. If I can get rid of a person's fear of growing a herb, I encourage them on their journey to be somebody who can cook fresh, good value, seasonal food. It is why every herb I sell has a little recipe leaflet AND growing leaflet with it.
Why did you choose a Rhino greenhouse for your business?
When we moved house, I also had to move my business. I had an appalling response rate from every greenhouse provider - except for Rhino. Who responded quickly and efficiently immediately. The service was excellent and the first thing they did was make sure I knew what sort of things to think about when buying one - where to site it, have you checked if you need planning permission/conservation area approval, shading, water source if you need it etc. etc. It was a very practical experience and I was put off buying bits and pieces I did not need so that I could budget for things over the years.
So that's Sara. Doesn't she sound lovely? Stay tuned for gardening tips, delicious recipes and the tales of this novice beekeeper!
My world is good when, apart from checking on the bees, I have a whole day to spend in my @RhinoGreenhouse with The Herbs. And... I will be letting you in on some very exciting news today, fingers crossed, which has made The Herbs very proud 😀 pic.twitter.com/YFoGjDifgz— Hawkwell Herbs (@hawkwell_herbs) September 10, 2019