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.



Herbs at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014

Spotting herbs at Chelsea

I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to this year’s Chelsea flower show by helping out for a few hours at the Plant Heritage cloakroom.

I absolutely adored all the cottage style plantings in the show gardens, many given a prairie twist by adding grasses into the mix. So for 2014 we have “cottage prairie planting” – not sure if that is an existing name but it should be!

Of course I was on the lookout for herbs in particular on my visit.

jekkas herb farm

Jekka’s Herb Farm was on a busy junction but this didn’t stop the bees finding the borage!

Inside the Great Pavilion there is always so much to see.

downderry lavender

Lavender growers Downderry Nursery were celebrating another gold

Well deserved medals were on display. Hooksgreen Herbs were celebrating their Gold, and business founder and Herb Society treasurer Malcolm Dickson was in great spirits and very pleased with the level of interest the garden had received.

hooksgreen herbs

Hooksgreen Herbs Peter Rabbit Garden

Outside, the show gardens were breathtaking.

telegraph garden with herbs

The Telegraph garden with fennel and borage in the foreground

reachout garden

The Reachout garden planted with rosemary balls in a sea of flowering thyme

My particular favourite, and voted the people’s choice, was the Hope on the Horizon garden designed in support of Help for Heroes, particularly apt in the year we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War. I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the billowy catmint and bronze fennel against the granite blocks. Herbs provided a sensory aspect to the garden, purposefully planted close to paths where someone passing might receive a welcome waft of fragrance: I spotted rosemary and thyme planted in this way.

help for heroes garden with herb borders

The Hope on the Horizon garden clockwise from top left: hard landscaping with foxgloves; herbs along a grass path; grasses and irises with granite blocks; dark irises, bronze fennel and catmint

In general throughout the gardens there was a decorative use of herbs as part of a mixed planting. For example fennel was often mixed in with cottage garden plants, thymes used as edging and in stone paths, and lavender in dry areas.

Looking forward to next year already!




Chelsea Physic Garden

A Garden of Many Medicinal Plants

A couple of weeks ago I was in London for a visit to Westminster Abbey Gardens with the Herb Society London Group, and took the opportunity to continue the herb theme with a trip to Chelsea Physic Garden. It has been in the press recently with the unveiling of the new Garden of Medicinal Plants, so perfect timing for my first visit.

herbs in the medicinal garden

The Garden of Medicinal Plants with a flowering Judas tree, lots of herbs and many informative displays

What a friendly place! I was greeted warmly and had a quick look round before the next optional tour was due to start. I had wondered if I had sufficient attention span after touring the Abbey gardens in the morning, but I’m glad I did. I picked up so much more of interest by listening to our guide Marion (a volunteer) than I would have otherwise.

The short dictionary definition of a herb is “any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume”, so a large proportion of the plants at Chelsea Physic Garden qualify! It is London’s oldest botanic garden, having been founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. As well as herbs, the garden contains many trees, shrubs and plants of decorative as well as historical interest.

I arrived on Tues 29th April to find a brand new statue of Sir Hans Sloane, benefactor of the garden, ready and waiting for the official opening of the new Garden the next day. I was immediately inspired by the news that this was the man that brought drinking chocolate to the UK!

sloane statue at chelsea physic garden

The new statue with pond & peonies; across the lawn

Here are some of my favourite areas:

chelsea physic montage

L-R from top: Fortune’s tank pond; Garden of useful plants; unassuming entrance; fernery; green roof in compost area; pond & rockery; rockery detail

And some interesting plants:

flowers herbs chelsea physic garden

L-R from top: Rosa chinensis; successfully grafted mistletoe on an apple tree; handkerchief tree; Lavandula pubescens in the rockery; Iris germanica grown for orris root; red-flowered echium; tree peony

What a glorious way to spend an afternoon! Thoroughly recommended.

Find out more about Chelsea Physic Garden and the Garden of Medicinal Plants

Secret Garden Sundays

Visit the new RHS London shows

Secret Garden Sundays are a new monthly event to inspire plant enthusiasts not just in growing, but also cooking, flower arranging and crafts. Join the Herb Society and many more organisations in Vincent Square on the first Sunday of every month this Summer for a wide range of stalls, talks, tastings and demonstrations.

rhs secret garden sundays

Two events have already taken place at time of writing, with shows planned for 1st June, 6th July, 3rd August and 7th September, with a Secret Garden Christmas Special on November 2nd.

secret garden sundays herb society stall

The Herb Society stand at the April event

Gwenneth (not pictured), Sylvie and Igor have been running the stand, and enjoy chatting to members of the public about all things herbal.

secret garden sundays may

Setting up the stand for the May show with a display of herb seeds

The RHS say “the Lindley Hall will give new gardeners a warm welcome, offering an informal environment where plant sales and gardening advice rub shoulders with food stalls and live music.

For those looking for handy hints and tips, there will be gardening experts on hand providing advice, cooking demonstrations, seasonal tips from top florists, and gardening and craft workshops.” 

Past exhibitors have included bakers, growers, seed companies, bee conservation, juice, nature inspired ceramics, honey, cheese and other food, roses, designers, mosaics, talks on herbs, floristry demonstrations, food tastings and creative workshops. Each event will be slightly different.

Do come along and say hello!

Find out more about the event, including location and ticketing

August talks, workshops and demonstrations

The Gardens at Westminster Abbey

Herbs and serenity in central London

Last week, the London herb group visited Westminster Abbey with Head Gardener and Herb Society member Jan Pancheri. The gardens comprise several areas: Deans Yard; Great Cloister Garth; Little Cloister; St Catherine’s Garden, and the College Garden which contains a beautiful herb area.

outside westminster abbey

Westminster Abbey in the hustle and bustle of central London. On entering the Great Cloister, peace reigns.

little cloister

Once inside the Abbey grounds, the atmosphere is incredibly tranquil, for example in the Little Cloister

st catherines garden

St Catherine’s Garden with column bases and self seeded erigerons

college garden

Corners of the College Garden – roses planted for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee; a grape vine, and bluebells in grass

As herb enthusiasts, it was the herb garden that attracted much of our attention. It is square in shape and separated into quarters, with a central decorative circular bed planted with Rosa Mundi. The four main beds each contain vegetables; culinary herbs; medicinal herbs and dye plants. The garden was opened by the Queen in 2010, and reflects the way herbs may have been used by the Benedictine monks who lived in the Abbey centuries ago.

herb garden

The herb garden beautifully set out with willow edging – we were shown around by Jan (stripy top)

herb garden plants

Herb garden plants that caught my eye: woad; very early nasturtiums; milk thistle, and white flowered borage


It’s always great to see behind the scenes. Jan has a lovely corner of the College Garden for office work and propagation

It was a really enjoyable morning, and Jan was kind enough to include a visit to the Abbey’s impressive library in her tour.

Find out more about Westminster Abbey Gardens

If you are a Herb Society member and would like to join the London herb group, contact Gwenneth at