Secret Herb Garden

Home to The Old Curiosity Distillery.

Published: 7th July 2018

From the get-go when you meet Hamish Martin, his love and knowledge of multicellular, predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the kingdom Plantae, or as we like to call them – plants, is utterly joyous.

In 2011 Hamish and his wife purchased a derelict 7.5-acre plot on the outskirts of Edinburgh nestled in the Pentland Hills. Their original dream was to create a herb garden where Hamish could grow and nurture a range of plants and botanicals and a chic bohemian style cafe for visitors that his wife Liberty would manage.

With a career in the world of wine, Hamish had a detailed and in-depth understanding of vines, grapes and the growing process. It was this knowledge of wine that set Hamish on a brave and bold adventure. An adventure that would see him gain a Diploma in Herbology, establish the Secret Herb Garden, develop a range of colour changing Scottish Gins that used mother nature’s magic and botanicals from the garden, and in June 2018 see the family business launch their gin school and gin garden… all this in only a few years!

You lose all sense of time and place at the Secret Herb Garden, home to The Old Curiosity Distillery. With a traditional glasshouse laid out with comfy sofas, armchairs and tables, a cafe and gin school decorated with vintage signage, a distillery and outbuildings, the floral scents and rainbow of colours is inescapable – a wonderland of botanicals. With over 700 varieties of herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees there’s an inspiring number of plants and fauna – all planted, nurtured and looked after by the team at the Secret Herb Garden which includes Martin’s daughter Francesca.

Hamish said “Mother Nature never fails to amaze, bewildered and presenting new opportunities for creation. We never set out to make gin but as I learned more about the intricate properties of the botanicals and the more we thought about the idea of making a gin with our botanicals the more it made sense. A true garden gin that would provide a glimpse of what the secret herb garden has to offer. We hand pick all our floral botanicals in the garden, they are then washed and dried to provide the base for our gins, which include Apothecary Rose, Lavender and Echinacea.”

“It was when we were developing our recipe that we discovered something truly wondrous. When we added tonic to our gin recipe the gin changed colour – our Apothecary Rose changing from a light sepia colour to a vibrant fuchsia pink and Lavender and Echinacea changed from a light inky blue to an effervescent lilac colour. Our Chamomile & Cornflower gin changed from a light blue colour to a rich purple – Mother Nature is indeed full of surprises.”

The sun hasn’t always shone for Hamish and the Secret Herb Garden, who along with his family have had many hurdles to overcome to get to where they are now. Anyone who’s experienced a standard Scottish Winter can testify to being cold, wet and continually feeling like it’s dark all the time – imagine having to endure this whilst living in and working from a portacabin… with your family… and your pets… and no central heating… for over two years!

Amongst the challenges of looking after a young family and managing a new business, Hamish and Liberty also had the unusual predicament of sourcing, nurturing and growing a vast array of herbs and botanicals from scratch. When you see the Secret Herb Garden today, you would think it had been here for a lot longer than 7 years.

Thanks to Hamish and Liberty’s bold vision, along with their team of staff, The Gin Garden officially opened on the sunny summer afternoon of 26th June 2018. Along with a tour of the gardens, where you’ll learn more about the flora and botanicals used in The Old Curiosity Distillery Gins, you’ll also be treated to a gin tasting where the flavour profiles are explained for each gin, what the botanicals are, and you can watch as faces light up as the gin changes colour before your very eyes. You may also get a sneak peek at the distillery and have a chance to speak with distiller Steve Ross about the distilling process.

We were treated to a private tour around the distillery, greenhouse, gin garden and botanical gardens with Hamish before the first group of visitors officially arrived. Hamish and his love of plants was infectious. From the most inconspicuous looking weed to the raised beds used to grow the gin botanicals, Hamish knew every plant, its properties and how it should be tended. One of his favourite parts of the Secret Herb Garden was a plant bed that had been left to grow wild – whatever seeds fell there were left to take hold and grow. A real wild botanical garden provided by whatever Mother Nature saw fit to blow in that direction that they had the fortune to land where it did.

The gin garden itself is under shelter with benches, chairs and right next to the gin school. Cafe on one side with a lovely willow arch on the other leading to the gardens. A peaceful place to escape from the real world, if only for a few hours. With a selection of gin samples on offer and an informative talk from Hamish, the smiles on the faces of those in attendance were obvious – and that was before a drop of the fantastic gins had been touched. Throw in the fact that you’re only a few miles from Scotland’s capital city adds to the wonder – it’s at this point you realise that there could be no other name more fitting than the Secret Herb Garden. It’s a secluded, tranquil and fun place to be. It’s inspiring, it’s a treat for the senses, it’s cool, it’s the perfect outdoor setting for enjoying a rather fabulous gin tasting. If you love gin and want an escape from the frantic pace of day to day life, then the Gin Garden at the Secret Herb Garden should be at the top of your list.

To celebrate the launch of new Gin Garden, Hamish and their distiller Steve Ross created two new limited edition gins – Geranium & Mallow Gin and a Damask Rose, both worthy additions to the signature range of gins and using seasonal botanicals and ingredients. These new gins are available in batches of only 500 each and are available exclusively from Harvey Nichols so better be quick if you want to try these before they sell out.

The beauty, wonder and scale of what Hamish and his family have achieved is mind-boggling. The fact that only a few years ago this was an unloved and unattended plot of waste ground makes you realise just what can be created by the brave and the bold, with a little help and love, Mother Nature can create something beautiful. The Secret Herb Garden and The Gin Garden are a shining example of how one family with a bold vision have created not only a place that is brimming with nature but overflows with real, natural wonder and magic.

You can learn more about The Old Curiosity Distillery here.

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