WATCH: Exploring the secret herb garden at Midlothian’s Old Curiosity Distillery

The Secret Herb Garden off Old Pentland Road hosts more than one secret. And it is thanks to a wrangle with Midlothian Council’s planning department which threatened to plunge the quirky herb nursery and wedding venue into dissolution, that this curious secret to success has been unearthed.

A lightbulb moment to further harness mother nature and use the abundant fruits from the plentiful bedding bays for a new purpose has helped the family business diversify.

And so was born The Old Curiosity Distillery creating the perfect serve to give a new lease of life to a one-of-a-kind garden at the foot of the Pentland Hills.

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But far from riding the wave of the UK’s gin boom, founder Hamish Martin and wife Liberty have created a vibrant and entirely unique drink, complete with bundles of fresh botanicals bottled with bundles of passion and completely chemical free.

Hamish Martin, managing director of the Old Curiosity Distillery

And since it’s inception in 2017 it’s easy to see why gin enthusiasts and high profile retailers such as Harrods, John Lewis and Harvey Nichols want a shot of the Secret Garden gin.

With over 1000 juniper bushes, 500 herbs and floral varieties such as scented lemon verbena, geraniums, irises and roses, the gin garden is a special tribute to mother nature. It is also the nation’s first and only pure working gin botanical garden.

And all of the herbs and botanicals within the gin range are grown, hand-picked, dried and infused by the team at the Secret Herb Garden. They are all 100 per cent natural – free of chemicals, sugars and flavour compounds.

And weaving in and out of the planters and various outhouses stamped firmly with the quirky personality of the Martin family, herbologist Hamish described Old Curiosity Distillery gins as a real earth to glass product.

Some of the herbs used in the distilling process

“There’s no chemicals, everything you see is natural. We don’t even use organic stuff,” he explained. “It’s an overcrowded market, there are so many gins but we are so completely different that I believe in it – we’ve got the botanics.”

The botanicals are grown akin to crops, to limit the impact on nature’s delicate balance.

“I wouldn’t forage for wild Scottish juniper or elderflower for example – there has to be a balance and stripping wild bushes and plants of their berries has an impact. I feel very strongly about that.”

But his talent for coaxing curious sounding yields of rainbow plants from the of ground results in a gin lounge wall-to-wall with huge tubs botanicals such as cornflower, geranium, yarrow, Scots lovage and wood avons.

Hamish’s overflowing passion for nature is central to the sustainability of the product but it is also endearingly distinctive in its lack of ego.

The gin’s branding puts the plants front and centre. Shunning advice and the example of industry competitors where the brand name is the biggest font on the bottle, with the Old Curiosity gins you can just about make out the name of the distillery. Instead the plants, apothecary rose, lavender and echinacea and chamomile and cornflower take centre stage.

Hamish shrugged: “Nature is amazing – it’s all about the plants. It’s not about me, or how brilliant the stills are. It’s the ingredients.”

And a quirk of nature, or by the design of chemistry, when tonic is added to any of the gins, they change colour.

“They are fantastic gins and the fact they turn pink is an added bonus,” Hamish said, “But it’s a lot of fun and we’re excited about releasing more and exploring more flavours and colours.”

And to give curious fans a peek beneath the bonnet of the operation, visitors will soon be able to walk around and experience for themselves the magic and the tranquillity created by Hamish and Liberty in the only gin tour of its kind in the UK.

From March 23 gin enthusiasts can witness the complete gin-making process for themselves and the tour concludes with a tasting of the Secret Garden Range.

Hamish said: “Nowhere else in the world has a gin garden and distillery on site as we do here. We’re incredibly proud to say that we grow and pick our own botanicals before drying and distilling them to perfection, to obtain that distinctive natural flavour and unbelievable colour change. It’s incredible to see nature in action. Everything we do here is done with love, and we’re excited to welcome gin lovers – or those ready to be converted – to see the magic of nature and witness how we use it to create these special gins. We hope people are blown away by what they see, smell, taste and learn on these tours.”