Colin Roche’s road map from his home city of Liverpool to being the Island’s only commercial grower of this tasty and healthy aquatic plant is marked with a few fascinating tales.
Jobs in hospitality and making sure that Australian Rules football turf was pitch perfect served him well when he arrived in Jersey. He worked as a waiter and landscape gardener before eventually settling into gardening and growing watercress.
‘Watercress is a real superfood as it is packed with iron, calcium, folic acid, in addition to vitamins A and C,’ Colin said. ‘It is not only a salad ingredient it also enhances the taste of any sandwich and makes beautiful soup and sauces which go well with fish and meat dishes.
After 45 years resident in the Island, Colin still speaks with a Liverpool twang – and has not lost the city’s famous sense of humour when he explains how he got here.
‘Some friends were going to Jersey and needed a lift down to Weymouth as they were getting the boat over. They plied me with a few pints and had purchased me a ticket to stay the weekend, so I was persuaded to do this,’ he said. ‘I left my mum a note saying back in two days. I had an old Morris Minor hand-painted black and yellow – called Bumble – and the journey down didn’t go without its problems.
‘First of all the bonnet lid blew off when we were on the motorway, but we managed to retrieve it, and then the car broke down just as we were getting on the boat so we had to push it on. On arriving in Jersey I loved it immediately. I had never seen a yacht marina before, so I decided to stay.’
Colin grows watercress in a secluded meadow in beds of sand and gravel.
‘It has to be grown in constant running water, and as luck would have it, when we dug out the land for the beds they have a clay base. Also there are two natural springs that feed water with a constant temp of 10°C into the beds,’ he said. ‘The best conditions are damp and warm and this is more often the case in this meadow.’
He produces about 30 cases – each holding 20 bunches – in a week, depending on the weather from March to December and supplies hospitality venues, supermarkets, farm shops and the Central Market.
‘I am totally organic, I do use a spray, occasionally, when I get pestered with the flea beetle but this is organic and is garlic based,’ he said. ‘Jersey watercress just has that extra-special spicy flavour, a big smack of mustard hits you, when you bite in to it.
‘It does have a larger leaf then any other I have seen sold in the Island and I do believe because it’s grown locally, it lasts longer in your fridge, not having travelled to get here.’