What is Paradise? But a Garden, an Orchard of Trees and Herbs, full of pleasure, and nothing there but delights.
From one of my favourite books – William Lawson, A New Orchard and Garden with The Country Housewife’s Garden, 1618. Facsimile edition, Prospect Books, 2003
I don’t have any formal horticultural or botanical training, my original learning being more by osmosis, with a childhood spent within a family of plants women. My greatest influence though was a close family friend with whom I spent many holidays, largely immersed in all things horticultutural.
On moving into my first house in the late 1980’s, unlike all the neighbours who sensibly maintained neat lawns in their front gardens, I immediately dug up the frontage, planting my first herb garden. I was lucky there in two respects, it lay adjacent to the gravel beds near Cirencester, where there was fabulous drainage. It was also near Stroud, where I grew up, but moreover where Gillian and Michael Wimperis then ran the fabulous Selsley Herb Nursery, my early source of inspiration. I was fascinated by these hugely differing plants collectively described as herbs, which the labels said had uses in the kitchen, the home or medicine cabinet, with their often wonderful colloquial names like Soapwort, Mugwort and Lungwort. I joined The Herb Society and was hooked.
Later living near another inspirational herb nursery at Hollington near Newbury, a constantly growing herbal collection and herbal research library became more and more important.
I did make a foray into training as a Medical Herbalist, only to soon realise that anatomy and physiology were not my thing at all and that I should stick to the plants!
In 2001 I moved to South Zeal near Okehampton, Devon where beds were dug and many more herbs planted. I’m now lucky enough to live close by to Chris and Jenny Seagon who run the fabulous nursery Laurel Farm Herbs, specialising in herbs and other edible plants, based in nearby Whiddon Down.
The first herb related book, bought aged 20 was “Herbs and Herb Gardens of Britain” by Elizabeth and Reginald Peplow, which I have read numerous times and still enjoy. Over time, I have acquired and treasure a whole bookcase of medicinal, culinary and horticultural herbal tomes. Particularly as I originally graduated in Home Economics, I have cooked my way around even more. Ironically though I am now thoroughly enjoying the digital delights and freedom of being able to study many of the old herbals at home for free. I garden using organic principles.