Homewood Bound - Joining the No Dig Revolution

In the picturesque Somerset countryside is the thriving kitchen garden of Homewood Hotel & Spa, a culinary revolution has been quietly unfolding over the past few years. Darren Stephens, the visionary Head Gardener and Chef at Homewood, embarked on a journey that not only transformed the menu but also embedded the kitchen garden-to-table ethos. Three years ago, inspired by a newfound passion for horticulture, he began the journey of establishing a kitchen garden at Homewood, and subsequently, at their sister hotel, Bishopstrow Hotel in Warminster.


Green Fingers Discovered During Lockdown

During Lockdown, when the world paused, Darren took a leap into the world of horticulture. Armed with a commitment to sustainability and a desire to source the freshest ingredients, he dedicated his lockdown to studying with the RHS. With the acquisition of unused pastureland that Homewood purchased the original lodge house (now transformed into the luxurious Mallingford Mews), and the full support of the owner Ian Taylor the Homewood Kitchen Garden began. This kitchen garden began with four raised beds, a poly tunnel, and Darren’s thirst for knowledge. The initial challenges were formidable, but with each passing season, the crops flourished, and the kitchen gardens expanded. Today, the landscapes at both Homewood and Bishopstrow Hotel are a testament to Darren's and Ian’s commitment to a truly sustainable, chemical-free farm to plate ethos.


Beyond Organic: The No-Dig Revolution

Darren's philosophy is clear - no chemicals, beyond organic to completely sustainable. The kitchen gardens utilize solar energy, composting everything from garden waste, egg boxes, coffee grounds, ash from the fire to kitchen vegetable scraps. The no-dig method, eschewing traditional soil disturbance, is a cornerstone of his approach. The soil is considered a thriving ecosystem where composting is the life blood of the garden. This commitment to the no-dig method means less soil disturbance, preserving the natural structure and promoting the flourishing of microorganisms.


“There’s a lot of man hours involved in producing these crops.... it’s something that the hotel has really invested in and really believes in.”

The nutrient-rich compost results not just in healthy tasty crops but a closed-loop system where waste from one phase becomes the nourishment for the next. Darren admits that the first year was a steep learning curve, but the rewards, especially by the third summer has been nothing short of fantastic.


From Seed to Plate: The Culinary Impact

The kitchen gardens boast an array of crops, when we visited it was Winter crops from various types of kale to winter salads and brussels sprouts. Darren emphasizes the importance of offering unique produce that distinguishes their menus from conventional suppliers. An experienced chef, he plans meticulously for the quantities required, ensuring a seamless integration of farm-fresh ingredients into the high-end culinary offerings.

” When they put salad on the menu, the leaves grown at Homewood, create a unique salad mix, one they wouldn’t be able to buy from our suppliers – it’s unique to us. With about 100 covers an evening, that’s not just a lot of salad, it’s a lot of forethought! “

In the summer, the workload intensifies, from sowing and harvesting to watering, needing extra pairs of hands, but those winter months are less intensive. Going into spring, Darren’s workload is stepping back up, but so too are the rewards, with fresh asparagus and radishes now on the menu.

A Menu with a Story: From Garden to Plate

Darren and owners Ian & Christa are the driving force behind the kitchen garden initiative, believing in the transformative power of connecting guests with their food sources. Guests can wander through the kitchen gardens, witnessing first-hand the produce that will later grace their plates in the hotel restaurant. This intimate connection reduces reliance on external suppliers, minimizes packaging, and significantly cuts down on food miles. The impact extends beyond the kitchen to the hotel's decor. Cut flowers, grown in the garden, contribute to sustainable floral displays throughout the establishment. The hotel’s décor is amazing, but the way, with meticulous attention to detail, stunning artworks and arrangements of objects.

A Sustainable Approach

So what exactly are the benefits of the no-dig method in the kitchen garden, other than less backache? The benefits include frost protection, improved plant growth, reduced water loss, and weed suppression. Most importantly this is all about soil health – Darren tells me that his focus is on cultivating the perfect soil, and that the tasty vegetables are almost a bi-product. The no dig method not only preserves soil health but also contributes to the fight against climate change. Digging disturbs carbon that is stored in the soil to oxidise and be released as carbon dioxide. By not digging, this carbon stays in the soil. We can all, therefore, do our bit to limit climate change by ensuring carbon stays in the soil. The soil is home to a myriad of organisms, including mycorrhizal fungi, crucial allies of plant roots in their quest for nutrients and moisture. Most of these organisms reside near the surface, easily accessible to developing roots. However, the act of digging poses a risk of displacing them into the deeper layers of the soil, beyond the reach of your plants. In the no-dig method, garden compost plays a vital role in nurturing these essential soil organisms. By using it as a mulch, you replicate natural processes: worms and other soil life consume the organic material deposited on the surface, transforming it into nourishing elements for the soil. This mimicked ecosystem ensures that the organisms supporting plant growth remain near the surface. The outcome is evident when introducing new seedlings into undisturbed soil – they quickly acclimate and thrive, growing into robust and healthy plants. This holistic, no-dig approach not only respects the intricate web of life beneath the surface but also mirrors the resilience and vitality of nature's own processes. In a world where the origin of food matter, the journey from garden to plate at Homewood and Bishopstrow Hotel is a celebration of simplicity and sustainability. Darren's metamorphosis from a high-paced kitchen to cultivating the land has resulted in a culinary experience that not only tantalizes the taste buds but also tells a story of mindful, sustainable living. You can follow Darren’s No Dig Blog all year round here, you can enjoy the fruits of his labour at Homewood and Bishopstrow Hotel 


If you haven’t discovered Homewood yet, you should treat yourself. Nestled in the rolling hills of Somerset this stunning Hotel & Spa, charmingly blends Georgian splendour with a touch of playful mischief. Less than 3 hours’ drive from London, 20 minutes from Bath, you could soon be strolling through lush grounds littered with quirky sculptures—and of course an amazing kitchen garden. Who could resist the charm of a giant teddy bear, ready to welcome you with open arms?  The interiors are equally eclectic, marrying a traditional vibe with a very modern twist and some amazing art.

But beyond the whimsy lies a deeper connection to nature and heritage, demonstrated by the kitchen garden. Homewood is committed to sustainability, ensuring that its beauty endures. Here, guests can escape the hustle and bustle, exploring sprawling gardens and embracing the tranquillity of the countryside.


And I haven’t even mentioned the award-winning spa! Homewood is clearly hitting all the right hospitality notes, have been recently welcomed into the Pride of Britain Hotels stable, and deserves a visit.