I was saddened to read of the death of Reg Peplow, former parliamentary correspondent, entrepreneur and founder of Herbs from the Hoo.
I first met Reg and Liz in the early seventies at the birth of what was to become the BHTA., the organisation of Britains commercial herb growers. In those days I think only Peter Turner had a proper horticultural training and the Association was what Reg described as a Gentlemens fine dining club. Some of us would have been happy to let it remain like that, the dinners hosted by Cooper and Taylor of Tumblers Bottom were memorable both for the quality of the food and the conversation provided by members who had accidentally dropped into herb growing from other professions. Alas, it couldnt last and as we all became more professional, Reg who had a first hand knowledge of politicians, was dismayed at the machinations of some of our colleagues which made those of his former acquaintances seem positively genteel in comparison. At a time when one of our lady members was advocating 'standing on the throats' of business rivals, Reg once heard me refer to 'competitors'. 'You dont think that?', he said appalled, 'they are friends' But then, supported by Liz who gave the partnership a strong intellectual grounding, his interest in herbs was based more on curiosity rather than ruthless commercialism. Under the circumstances, his decision to take on the administration of the British Herb Trade Association may be seen as somewhat foolhardy and although many of his ideas were highly original, they were not always greeted with universal acclamation by the members. That said, I remember his delight lighting up the air around him as he described the vast number of Pennyroyals he had just peddled to deter ants in the local market. He was a brilliant salesman and if he ever doubted the plants efficacy, he never let on. Again, was his refusal to grow annuals shooting himself in the foot or sensibly prioritising his herb growing activities was a question I asked myself every autumn as I wondered why I had grown the unsold plants I was chucking on the compost heap. The answer of course is that with the exception of basil and chervil, unless you have a contract with a garden centre to take the plants at regular intervals, it is indeed a waste of time. These days most of our annuals are only grown on the basis of a firm and pre-paid order.
The Peplow house was situated at Buckden ('just past the Red Lion, on the right' was the standard direction) between Dorset and my ex-wifes farm in Cambridge so it afforded a welcome relief on the journey. My children thought he was great and Lizs unfailing supply of jammy sponge cake and chocolate biscuits made the Peplows my daughters favourite adults.
Death and disillusionment has wasted the ranks of that generation of herb growers, possibly the last able to combine an intellectual interest in the plants with commerce. So whilst its sad that Reg and Liz are no longer with us, its nice to remember them as major players in an era when the world was young and one could pursue a range of activities rather than be channelled into Fresh-cut or wholesale plugs or whatever.
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