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Permaculture in a Pot – growing your own tea

Wild garden tea in a glass teapot

I love tea. A lot.

Drinking tea refreshes and nourishes. It punctuates the day, brings people together, and on occasion, is the hot, sweet British response to a crisis! It’s in Spring that my drinking habit is raised a few notches, as all the herbs burst through and entice me with their fresh green leaves again.

We have the usual suspects growing in our garden. There’s a plethora of mint varieties, lemon balm, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, sage. Add to this some infusions from raspberry leaves, nettle, sweet cicely and stevia. Endless permutations combined in the pot for flavour and good health.

But we have a new addition to our patch that is a big player.

Drum-roll: Camellia sinensis, or just good old TEA.

Yes – the kind you get in tea-bags, and it’s more than happy to grow here in the northwest of England. In fact, Winston Churchill wanted to plant loads of it in case supplies were blocked during the war. Give it a fairly sunny spot, rich free-draining and slightly acidic soil, and it should thrive. My new one is a baby, so I’ll bring it in for the first 2-3 winters but after that it should manage the chillier months ok.

The only thing left is to decide its fate: white, green or black tea? It’s simply a matter of processing.

  • White tea is deliciously aromatic and the most antioxidant rich. I just pick off the tender tips and most recent 3-4 leaves and leave them to dry at room temperature.

  • Green tea is made by using a bit more of the new growth. You leave it to wilt slightly, bruise it between the palms of your hand for a minute and then leave them for about an hour in a warm place. Then just dry the leaves or you can grind them to make matcha for baking and smoothies.

  • Black tea – the classic “tea bag” kind, is much more complicated as the leaves go through a 4-stage process with an arguably inferior product at the end. Less is more in this case.

Wild garden tea in a glass teapot

And there are other reasons for my newly ignited love affair with tea. This plant is perfect for our permaculture garden design, serving several functions at once.

We wanted to design in some more shape and structure. Tea camellia’s shiny dark evergreen leaves make it perfect for hedging.

It also produces small pink or white fragrant flowers, perfect for pollinators and the teapot!

And if that isn’t enough, you can eat the leaves. Pop the newest, young, lime-coloured leaves in stir-fries and salads and don’t hold back – the more you pick, the bushier it’ll get, and the more you can pick. Win-win!

Now then … anyone for a cuppa?

By Dina Kingsnorth


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