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!


Isle of Wight Lavender – a national collection

A herb grower on the Isle of Wight

Fragrant herbs growing in a lavender garden

I was on the Isle of Wight in August for a mini-break with my husband, so thought I’d pop in and have a look at the national collection of lavenders. It was lovely to meet Reuben, whose family has been on the island for hundreds of years, and running the farm since 1927. The farm diversified when Reuben’s mother became interested in growing dried flowers. They started growing lavender and looked into extracting the oil, which is now used in a range of toiletries and cosmetics sold in their shop.isle of wight lavender

lavender gardenReuben grows well over 100 varieties of lavender for the national collection, which is monitored by Plant Heritage. He was telling us how he had suffered with the weather over the last year, even on his sloping site where the well-drained soil resembles the natural environment of lavenders, which originate in mountainous regions around the Meditteranean. His lavender garden was beautiful, with many Lavandula x Intermedia and Lavandula Stoechas varieties still in flower late into the season. These herbs were attracting the bees by the dozen!

bee white lavender

lavender national collectionWhen we arrived the garden was in the process of being improved by the addition of arches, scented roses and visitor-proof labelling. It is very important for varieties in a national collection to be clearly labelled, so it can act as a reference for future growers, but try telling this to garden visitors such as toddlers and over-enthusiastic shoppers!

green lavender flowers

isle of wight lavender garden

Isle of Wight Lavender is open free of charge, and has a shop and tea-room.

Visit Plantasia at Kew for Herb Heaven

Herb information in abundance at Plantasia

I visited Kew in the first week of June with friends, not realising that Plantasia was on. It’s a really informative project, with signage everywhere, explaining the usefulness of a variety of plants.

Experience the life-enhancing power of plants at the Kew Gardens Summer Plantasia Festival until 7 September 2014.

Of course we made a bee-line for the glasshouses, and the herb garden was a must.

kew glasshouse

Kew glasshouses


The herb garden at Kew

Although of a manageable size, the herb garden was packed with informative signs, not just about individual plants, but also the uses of herbs, such as traditional strewing herbs and herbs thought to ward off the plague in times past.

Kew garden herb borders

Kew garden herb borders

 Many wayside flowers have had herbal uses

These common flowers were all thought to have their uses:

cranesbill herb info

Cranesbill with herb info sign

According to the sign, Geranium pratense was known by Gerard as Crowfoote cranesbill, and in 1597 he wrote:
“Cranesbill with the Blew Flower is an excellent thing to heale wounds.”

oxeye daisy  herb info

Oxeye daisy info sign

Leucanthemum vulgare or Oxeye daisy:
“The juice, decoction, or distilled water, is drunke to a very good purpose against the rupture or any inward burstings.” Gerard 1597

Personally, inward burstings are not something I think about on a daily basis!

bistort herb info

Bistort plant info

Polygonum bistorta or Snakeweed:
“Both the leaves and the rootes of Bistort have a powerfull facultie to resist all poyson.”
Parkinson 1640

The bumblebees were working in force when we visited. They loved the Salvia officinalis inside the herb garden, and also the lavender beds in the adjoining Queens garden.

Kew bumblebees on herbs

Bumblebees on sage and lavender

 Outside the Herb garden

Wandering elsewhere around Kew, we came across many more information points, for example Houttuynia cordata was signposted in the borders as being a plant of much importance to Chinese medicine, having antibacterial properties.

houttuynia cordata plant info

Houttuynia cordata herbal properties

As part of Plantasia, there was even a gin bar serving a selection of botanical alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with recipes to try at home.

around Kew

Candelebra primulae and refreshments at Kew gardens

A variety of useful plants are featured in this festival: find out more about them on the Kew Gardens website.


Bees and insects in the garden

Encouraging insects in the garden

Did you know it was National Insect Week last week? It is well known how important insects are in the pollination of food crops, and recently honey bee colony collapse disorder has brought new fears of a decline in this vital insect. There is much information available online about encouraging insects and the National Insect Week website has hints and tips for a more insect friendly garden year-round.

Photographing insects in my garden

Being a keen amateur photographer, I have spent many hours in my garden photographing the flowers and insects with mixed results.

ladybird insect grass

An early ladybird climbing grass this March

blue butterfly herb garden

Common blue butterfly on a leaf of golden hop

rose chafer beetle insect

Rose chafer beetle on spirea

Of course local weather has a large effect on the populations of insects. The early ladybirds I saw in March could have been severely affected by late snow, although this year we were lucky here in the South East.

Rose chafer beetles love it in my garden. I have a large clump of Rosa Mundi they often visit, and I find their large c-shaped larvae in my compost heap (these are often well over an inch across, not to be confused with vine weevil larvae which are a similar shape but much smaller at nearer 1/4″). But last year was a very cold Spring: they emerged too early and missed my roses by about a month. Luckily they resorted to our spirea bush, but this year there have not been so many of this handsome creature.

Bees in the herb garden

I’ve been using the Wildlife Trust bee identification pages to spot bees in my garden as I’m no expert. But even I can tell there are quite a few different ones about! If any of these are incorrectly identified, please let me know and I’ll correct it.

borage herb carder bee

Common carder bee in my herb garden this year, enjoying the borage

red tailed bee hardy geranium

Red-tailed bee on a hardy geranium

bee comfrey

Early bumblebee piercing comfrey flower

Industrious bees have bitten a hole in the comfrey Hidcote Blue flowers in the image above, to reach the nectar more easily. I spotted the holes but it took a while to get a picture of one actually doing it!

Other bees I have seen in my garden this year include buff-tailed bumblebees and honeybees, in fact I have a neighbour a few doors away who keeps hives. I think the only reason I haven’t photographed them is that they are so fast moving!

Bees and the Herb Society

The Herb Society has taken a great interest over the years in the importance of bees in the environment, and our website has a wealth of information on the subject: Herb Society bee aware. A herb garden is a perfect place for bees. Many of the plants are nectar-rich and native (or developed from native species), meaning that the local bees and plants have evolved together. Herbs that are grown for their medicinal or culinary uses are less likely to have modified flowers (such as doubles), which are of less use to the insects.

Send us your insect pics! If you have an insect photo you are particularly proud of, do email it to and I’ll give you a mention!