We all love being let in on a secret – so stepping inside the ‘secret garden’ of Gleneagles’ maestro Andrew Fairlie is a real treat. With his Michelin-starred Gleneagles restaurant, he is one of Scotland’s finest talents. Just down the road from his eponymous restaurant at the legendary Gleneagles hotel Andrew and grower-gardener, Jo Campbell have a garden where they’re growing an amazing range of plants. Andrew maintains that this garden inspires the chefs in his two-Michelin-star kitchen to experiment with rare herbs, vegetables and fruits they never knew existed until Jo introduced them.
Where did the idea of having a kitchen garden for your restaurant come from?
When I was with Michel Guérard at Les Prés d’Eugénie, my first job in the morning was to go round the kitchen and ask the chefs what they needed, then go into the garden and snip rosemary and verbena before proceeding to the local orchards to pick peaches. It was a magical time – I looked forward to getting up and going into the garden to inhale the scents.
Then, as I travelled around France, Spain and Italy, I was struck by how much better their produce was, and felt we were abdicating our responsibility for what we were buying for the restaurant from the Glasgow produce market. We’re pretty well served for meat, fish and game, but the vegetable bit was always missing for us.
So, I had a very romantic idea in my head about being able to enter my own garden and pick herbs and vegetables the same day we served them, but I didn’t know how to do it and there was no room on the Gleneagles estate.
How did your romantic idea become a reality?
Three years ago, we heard about this couple who had an unused walled garden close to the hotel that they were willing to lease to us. I tweeted I was looking for a gardener – I was desperate for expert help – and Jo (Jo Campbell, self-taught horticulturist) saw it. I was knocked out by her passion for growing and her great photography. We wouldn’t have the garden we do if it wasn’t for her.’
The first season we asked her to grow what we had been buying and, in some ways, we got it wrong; great gluts of carrots, turnips and radishes and not enough of other things. I underestimated that we needed to speak to Jo every day and know what was coming in a week’s, two weeks’ and a month’s time.
What do you think of the garden now?
I love coming into the walled garden and feeling the energy, and I’m spending more and more time in my garden at home. When I say I’d like to become a full-time gardener, I’m only half-joking!’ I visit the garden three or four times a week. The chefs and front of house come down too and work there for a couple of hours. We assumed the garden would be barren for winter, but we’ve started growing for the season and it’s open year-round. Last year Jo produced wonderful little celeriac – we could have used so many more of them. But May and June is my favourite time to cook; when we produce herbs in quantities we could never afford to buy, using them to flavour desserts like parfaits as well as in savoury dishes, like lamb with lovage sauce.