Look, we’re all for organic, sustainably-grown produce at the best of times – but when that comes in the form of a thyme negroni? Well then we’re really for it. Such is the case at Heckfield Place: an eco-friendly estate in the rolling hills of Hampshire with a fully certified biodynamic market garden and organic farm that not only provides for the field-to-fork restaurants but also the spa, bar and bountiful flower arrangements in rooms (very much to be sniffed at).
The grand Georgian house (‘breathtaking’ in the words of writer Dolly Alderton when she reviewed it for us) dates back to the 1760s, but that heritage certainly doesn’t hinder any forward-thinking – if anything, the 400 acres of gloriously green land are focused on the future: every detail is designed to preserve the land for generations to come. That’s underpinned by Heckfield’s zero-waste pledge: every scrap is used, be that in a cordial, preserve or dressing (there’s no such thing as a lifeless salad here); and every often-overlooked vegetable end is championed, thanks to celebrated chef Skye Gyngell’s earth-minded menu.
AS NATURE INTENDED
Biodynamic principles begin with the soil. Nourishing and respecting our soil produces healthier crops, and this approach remedies the problematic, widespread use of artificial fertilisers. Chemical sprays aren’t simply frowned upon in Heckfield’s home farm: they are outright banned, along with anything else that inhibits natural life. And farmers don’t leave anything to chance: planting, pruning, weeding and harvesting are all dictated by the lunar cycles – decisions are rooted in the always-on rhythms of nature.
Such farming is closed-circle – meaning that all nutrients are recycled back into the soil they grew in (one-in, one-out, if you will). Animals are a natural and efficient way to do this: at Heckfield, British saddleback pigs help to tame the grass and bring fertility to the soil; Guernsey cows produce the manure used for fertiliser; bees buzz around the orchard’s apple, pear, plum and cherry trees (which, in turn, creates lick-the-spoon-worthy honey).
But don’t just take it from us – there’s a talk this Saturday (23 April – the day after Earth Day, no less) about this very topic, with Gyngell in conversation with model, activist and, yes, farmer, Arizona Muse.
THE GRASS IS GREENER
Heckfield Place is entirely self-sustaining thanks to its home farm, market garden and seven climate-controlled greenhouses. Basil, thyme, asparagus, radishes, squash, tomatoes, raspberries and blackberries (we could go on) thrive here – as do much-fêted brassica cabbages. There’s no shortage of blooms either – swooshes of narcissi, tulips, roses, delphinium and ranunculi line the walled garden. Even more impressive, though, is the biodynamic tree nursery. Giant redwoods, Monterey pines, Japanese cedar and various firs grow prolifically here thanks to the cloning of several hundred seedlings – all with the aim to increase longevity of the estate’s woodlands.
There are daily tours of the home farm, market garden and grounds with the lead gardener David – but really, you needn’t even leave the house to appreciate the fruits of the farmers’ labour. The spa uses the biodynamically-grown rose hip, lavender, witch hazel, cucumber and calendula in their essential oils and spa treatments (all grown just a few fluffy-robed and white-slippered steps away).
You’ll find daily-changing menus in the restaurants – one of which has been awarded a green Michelin star, natch – with delicate dishes connected umbilically to nature. Constant communication between farmers, gardeners and chefs means only the freshest produce is used, and that coveted star is a testament to all in equal part. Given the produce-first menu we can’t promise these dishes will always be available, but the likes of chilli-lathered farm greens, melt-in-the-mouth lamb cutlets, salt-baked beetroots with labneh, and crispy potatoes with black garlic certainly left us very satisfied at the time of writing.
So while there are plenty of reasons to stay at Heckfield Place (whimsical design, proximity to London, nature, nurture and everything in between), seeing the industry-leading workings of their farm, and tasting the resulting produce, is as good as any.
Digging the environmental efforts here? You’ll find more pioneering places in our full collection of eco-friendly hotels