The Blackden Trust Herb Collaboration

Herb Talk at the Old Medicine House

The Herb Society has many local groups and a list of speakers available to give talks on a variety of herb-related topics. Sue Hughes, Trustee of the Herb Society delivered a presentation to the Tatton Garden Society at the Blackden Trust on 30 June.  The Blackden Trust manages the Old Medicine House, a Tudor apothecary’s residency which was moved to the Cheshire site from Staffordshire in the 1970s.

old medicine house

Developing the herb garden

Planting herbs blackden

Planting herbs at Blackden a couple of years ago. The garden is now thriving

Sue says,
“The Herb Society have been working with the Trust to develop a herb garden based on the plants listed in John Gerard’s Herbal.  John Gerard was a son of Cheshire, being born in Nantwich in 1545, and the Herb Society owns a copy of a 1636 version of his Herbal.”

Folklore of herbs

Sue’s presentation was on the historical uses and folklore of herbs, including references direct from the Herbal in particular where Gerard describes uses of herbs in the north of England.  For instance,
‘The women of our Northerne parts especially about Wales and Cheshire do turne the herbe ale-hoofe into their ale; but the reason thereof I know not’.
(Ale-hoof was the common name for ground ivy).
For marjoram Gerard says,
‘the leaves boiled in water, and the decoction drunke, easeth such as are given to over much sighing’.
herbal folklore
Sue reports,
The group greatly enjoyed learning about the herbs and along with a tour of the house they also had the opportunity to view the Herbal and tour the Herb Garden.

Visiting the Medicine House

The Medicine House and garden are open to booked groups and for a range of conducted tours.  Look at the website for more details  Perhaps you will encounter the herbs of John Gerard and discover some of their history,
‘The leaves and floures of Borage put into wine make men and women glad and merry, driving away sadnesses, dullnesse and melancholy’.
sue hughes blackden
The Herb Society copy of Gerard’s Herbal is due to be displayed at the Garden Museum in London which reopens in early 2017 after extensive refurbishment.
Image credits Sue Hughes.














Herb Society events 2016

It’s May and the sun is shining on herb gardens around the country

A great time of year to get out and about for herbal inspiration

RHS Flower Shows

Chelsea Flower Show this year is 24-28 May. The Herb Society doesn’t take a stand at this event, but we can guarantee a profusion of herbs! For example former Herb Society President Jekka McVicar has designed the St John’s Hospice garden entitled A Modern Apothecary. Herb exhibitors include Hooksgreen Herbs, run by our own Chairman Malcolm Dickson and his family. Another Chelsea regular is Downderry Nursery, the well known lavender grower.

The Herb Society has had a strong showing at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show in Cheshire in the last few years, with our stand scoring a Silver Gilt medal in 2014 and a Silver in 2015. Although we are not exhibiting this year, again it’s bound to be a great show for herbs – visit from 20 to 24th July 2016.

herbs for tea tatton flower show

Detail from the Herb Society exhibit at Tatton 2015. Image credit Peter Depledge

Herb Society Summer Gathering and AGM at Cressing Temple FREE to members

On 30 July 2016, starts at 10am, Free to Herb Society Members

Cressing Temple, between Witham and Braintree in Essex, has the most fantastic and unique buildings and gardens.  Given to the Knights Templar in 1137, its Grade I-listed Barley and Wheat Barns, built in the 13th century, are among the oldest timber barns in the world and few surviving Templar buildings in England.
cressing temple herb garden Jan 2015

Cressing Temple and its herb gardens from the air

Among Cressing Temple’s gardens, the Walled Garden is faithfully reconstructed as a Tudor pleasure garden, featuring an extensive collection of herbs commonly grown in 1600 – one of few in the country.
The Herb Society’s summer gathering and AGM is kindly being hosted by Friends of Cressing Temple Gardens.  To coincide with this event, on the weekend of 30 and 31 July, Cressing is holding a Healthy Living and Wellbeing Fair.
The event kicks off at 10am in the conference room with refreshments on arrival followed by the AGM.  For lunch, you can have a bite to eat at The Barns tearoom (, picnic in the grounds or purchase food at the Healthy Living Fair.  You will have the afternoon to wander the fair which continues until 5pm.
herbs cressing temple Knot garden

Herbs in the knot garden at Cressing Temple

As an Herb Society member attending the AGM you will have free entry to the Fair which will include plant stalls, talks and demonstrations, including a firing of a 19th century bread oven and demonstration of traditional bread baking.  The Herb Society will take a stand reflecting the history of the Tudor Herb Garden.  There will be a modest entry charge for those not attending the AGM.
To book your place please email marked for the attention of Nicky our organiser.
We look forward to seeing you there!


Herb Society Members’ Day at Dilston Physic Garden

On 8 October 2016

 Do keep this day free for a visit to this relaxing and educational spot near Corbridge, Northumberland. Dilston Physic Garden is a charity with a unique and modern physic garden set up for the public and educational purposes. Individuals, groups, schools, colleges and universities visit to learn about the health benefits and medicines from plants.
The garden is separated into herb beds each with their own specific areas of interest, from woodland to culinary, from a medicinal meadow to the Time Space Zone taking you through medicinal plants of the past and from around the world. At Dilston you will discover plants used in traditional herbalism along with the latest clinical, chemistry and biology information that sits behind the folklore.
For our special members’ day, not only will there be a tour of this fabulous site, but also talks by Ross Menzies and Nicolette Perry about medicinal herbalism and plants for the brain. Places are limited and cost £20 per Herb Society member.
To book your place please email marked for the attention of Nicky our organiser.


Local events

There are many more garden festivals and events up and down the country this summer. The Herb Society supports a network of local groups, so do check your local branch to see if they are planning an event. A list of local herb groups is listed in our journal Herbs, which is posted out to all members, or contact us to find out more.

If you are planning an event, or know of one that other herb enthusiasts might be interested in, do please comment below or email for a mention on Facebook or Twitter.


Herb Society AGM 2015

Ryton Organic Garden in the sunshine

The Herb Society was very lucky with the weather for this years AGM which was held at Garden Organic near Coventry.

Herb Society day out in pictures

Thank you very much to Nicky Westwood, Penny Asquith-Evans and and Gwenneth Heyking for sharing their lovely pictures of the day! Click on images to enlarge.

Successful garden tour, talk and AGM

Events co-ordinator Nicky Westwood reports:

Despite the recent poor weather, the sun shone on the Herb Society AGM on Saturday 26th September. There were 29 attendees in all, and they were greeted by a range of teas, coffees and herbal teas – even local honey as a sweetener! With full attendance the AGM started at 11.30. We were sad to see Barbara and Peter Depledge leave us after all their hard work and success. Malcolm Dickson was formally elected as Chairman, and took us through the agenda. Some questions were raised about the location of the Society, the library and the managing of local groups. When the business of the day was over, members settled into a very nourishing lunch of various wraps, fries, and raw slaw with orange dressing. We finished with a mouth watering selection of cakes. Toby Buckland, our President, had driven all the way up from Devon. He gave an interesting and varied talk on the plants he has grown, rounding off with anecdotes and histories, including Pliny’s view of rocket! Everyone chipped in and asked questions. Afterwards we were taken by one of the gardeners around the Organic Gardens – which are beautiful and tranquil, with interesting and unexpected features, such as the Cuban garden and tropical greenhouse. Toby dug the first sod of the new herb garden, to our applause and laughter. There was still a buzz in the air when we all picked up our goodie bags (jute Herb Society shopping bags stuffed with good things) and left. End of an excellent day.

Thanks Nicky for organising a great event, and thank you to James and all at Ryton for hosting it! And thanks to and for contributing products to fill the gift bags.

Find out more about Garden Organic by reading a previous post about a Herb Society committee visit to Ryton which took place earlier this year.

Verdant Hong Kong

Plant spotting in Hong Kong

It was my first visit to Hong Kong this Spring and for some reason I was expecting nothing but tower blocks – I was pleasantly surprised how green it was!

Sightseeing many green spaces and parks

herb spotting in hong kong

Hong Kong city from the Peak

big buddha foliage

The Big Buddha is on a verdant mountain with a fabulous view from the top

temple gardens

The gardens at Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon

The Banyan Tree

banyan tree for herb society

Banyan tree in a Hong Kong park one minute from a busy shopping street

The Banyan tree Ficus Urostigma, is a culturally important tree in many countries. It is a fig tree having aerial prop roots that grow into thick woody trunks which can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Many Hong Kong villages traditionally had a Banyan as a meeting place, the large tree being afforded respect as if it was a kindly elder.
I found this Hong Kong Banyan tree website very interesting if you’d like to find out more.

Fruit, herbs and flowers in the New Territories

northern territories herbs

I’m not quite sure what this marvelous tree is (left), but the flowers were waxy like magnolia (spotted in the New Territories near Fanling) – Carp pond near Fanling – Wild cosmos and bindweed nearby – Fallen starfruit by a public road, ripe for scrumping!

A short train ride out of the city centre are the suburbs, with many families able to grow their own flowers and herbs on a garden or patio. I spotted avocado, passionfruit, and citrus fruit, and herbs like dill, rue and lemongrass.

Bauhinia the national flower

My favourite flower? The national flower of Hong Kong of course! The flag and coins of Hong Kong both feature the stylised, five-petal flower of the Hong Kong orchid tree Bauhinia blakeana. I had never seen one before, and to me it resembled an extremely blousy azalea!

flower coin


ruth and mei

Me with my friend and travelling companion Mei who lived in Hong Kong as a child

Read about our visit to Hobbiton and a lavender farm in New Zealand on the same trip.

Wanaka lavender farm

Visiting a lavender farm in New Zealand

It was great to be able to visit one of the most Southerly lavender farms in the World on my holidays!

wanaka lavender farm sign

Lavender growing conditions

Wanaka lavender farm is on South Island New Zealand, about an hour from Queenstown, in an alpine area known for its cold winters and hot dry summers (although it was raining the day we visited!). This area replicates lavender’s native environment in Europe, where it prefers to grow at altitude in mountainous areas surrounding the Mediterranean. The lavender also appreciates the free-draining poor soil in the Wanaka area.

lavender herbs growing at wanaka lavender

I enjoyed meeting Tim who was happy to let me photograph his gardens and shop. Lavender is in his blood – his parents have been running Kaikoura Lavender (towards the N.E. of the island) for the last twenty years.

rows of lavender

Tim has been working to expand Wanaka Lavender over the last couple of years, with the nursery and shop opening recently.

dried lavender bunches

Dried lavender bunches hanging in the coffee shop

Lavender products

The oil is distilled an hour down the road, with a choice of Grosso which is commonly used in fragrance, or Angustifolia Pacific Blue for aromatherapy. They had a shop full of lovely products made with the oil, such as soaps, gels and lotions.

lavender essential oil aromatherapy

Herbs in the garden

I visited on the 6th March and had missed their harvest by about three weeks, but there was still plenty of colour in the garden. The garden benefited from some imaginative planting including native plants and grasses.

herbs at wanaka lavender farm

Standard rose surrounded by a wheel of thymes with mountain and low cloud behind.

thyme herb wanaka lavender

Thyme flowering in the herb garden

lavender and grasses

Grasses thriving in amongst the lavenders

It was good to meet you Tim!

If you would like to visit a lavender farm in the UK, there is a surprising amount of choice these days! I visited Isle of Wight Lavender last summer, who hold a national collection.

Are Hobbits Herbalists?

Hobbiton is a wonderful place to visit

I haven’t read Tolkein’s The Hobbit for a few years, but greatly enjoyed the films, so couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the Hobbiton film set when I was in New Zealand a few weeks ago.

Herbs everywhere

Ruth at Hobbiton

Ruth at Hobbiton

The film set was built to last as a tourist attraction after the filming had finished and each home was completely believable with its own back-story…

Most hobbits are clearly gardeners. There are 44 hobbit homes in Hobbiton, and nearly every one had a beautiful front garden.

Hobbiton is a well-defined society with each home having its own character – there is even a cluster of alms houses and a communal veg plot. Fruit trees grow everywhere.


Gardening hobbits

herb dryer

A pretty Hobbiton house with herb dryer hanging by the front door

vegetable gardening Hobbiton

The communal veg plot at Hobbiton clearly utilises companion planting

lavender nasturtiums herbs

Herbs growing in the veg plot – lavender and nasturtiums

lemon verbena herb

Another herb in the vegetable plot – lemon verbena

salvia herb

This Hobbit likes salvias

echinacea herb grown by hobbits

I saw quite a few front doors with an echinacea plant nearby – Hobbits see the importance of boosting their immune systems!

herbal tinctures

Was this Hobbit responsible for herbal tinctures and decoctions?

beneficial pollinators

Beekeeping not only provides a source of food, but also beneficial pollinators

decorated gourds

Hobbits have time for natural crafts such as decorating gourds

bag end front door

Bag End is the most important house in Hobbiton and has a beautiful front garden with echinacea

hobbits grow fruit

Fruit growing in front of Sam’s front door

sams herbs

Sam has left his waistcoat outside. He has a bunch of herbs drying by his door.

greenery at hobbiton

I commented to my travelling companion that I would prefer a water-front apartment if I were a Hobbit!

 A great afternoon out for herbalists and non-herbalists alike!

The Herb Garden at Ryton Organic

A few weeks ago, Garden Organic at Ryton was kind enough to host our latest Herb Society committee meeting. I was pleased to get the chance to meet the new trustees, as well as Lynne and Karen from our office.

ryton organic garden entrance

It was a really cold January day, but the sun did come out briefly for us to look around the garden! Chief Executive James Campbell (pictured second from right, below) showed us an area which will be developed into a new herb garden.

new herb garden ryton

new herb area

empty garden awaiting herb planting

The bones of the currently empty garden are well-defined and elegant. The existing herb garden is well-labelled, although James did comment that labels have a habit of going missing – something I also heard at Isle of Wight Lavender when I visited them!

existing herb area ryton

Looking particularly good in the wintry herb garden were some creeping thymes, and skeletal physalis. The low sun in the remains of the orange Chinese lanterns was fabulous!

thyme growing in ryton herb garden

physalis chinese lanterns

Garden Organic has ten acres of showcase gardens, including areas demonstrating the importance of the soil and compost, bees and wildlife. Display gardens include decorative borders as well as fruit and vegetable gardens, including the Heritage Seed library garden. It is located a few miles South East of Coventry.

Thank you James for your hospitality!