Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Apothecary's Garden...

Historically, an apothecary was one who formulated and dispensed medicines and tonics - the forerunner to a pharmacist. In addition to pharmaceutical remedies, the apothecary offered general medical advice and services that are now performed by other specialists, such as physicians and surgeons.

They built on the work of monk herbalists who would grow medicinal herbs in their monastic gardens and chronicle their uses.

Above and Below: Examples of monsatic medicinal gardens still extent

Below: the monastery of Mt Calvary in Santa Barbara, run by the monks of the Order of the Holy Cross, of which I am an associate, had a lovely garden high in the hills above Santa Barbara, but alas, it was raised to the ground by a bush fire 2 years ago.

The Willowbrook Apothecary's Garden

Above: A beautiful walled medicinal garden.

Below: A medieval woodcut of herb gatherers.

Within our potager we are planting two symmetrical knot gardens, both for herbs, one knot medicinal, the other culinary. The current site for the apothecary's garden looks like this...

but we shall transform the area (15 square meters) according to our design below...

We are planting herbs such as Echinacea purpurea (below), commonly thought to have immune boosting qualities...

And Valerian officinalis (above) and Chamomile (below) known to have calming effects

For a fuller list see this previous posting.

The Chelsea Physic Garden

The Chelsea Physic Garden was founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in 1673 for its apprentices to study the medicinal qualities of plants. Throughout the 1700s it was one of the most important centres of botany and plant exchange in the world. It is London’s oldest botanic garden and a unique living museum. In 1722 Sir Hans Sloane, the Lord of the Manor in which the garden was situated, presented the garden to the Apothecaries Company so that they could continue their botanical research. A statue of Hans Sloane by Rysbrack stood in the garden but since 1985 has been replaced by a replica and the original moved to the British Museum.

Above: The famous Cedars of Lebanon in the Physic Garden, painted by James Fuge c.1850.
They were planted in 1683, among the first to be planted in England. The last one died in 1903.

Below: The statue of Hans Sloane by Rysbrack

A brief passage from a history of the gardens...

The Manor of Chelsea is a very ancient one, and has passed through illustrious and noble hands. Henry VIII, Catherine Parr, the Duke of Northumberland an Anne of Cleves have all owned or resided here. Sir Hans Sloane purchased the Manor of the last Viscount Newhaven in the year 1712. Sir Hans Sloane was one of those men who leave their mark on the age in which they flourish. He was descended from a Scotch family, but educated in the North of Ireland. he became an ardent botanist, of no mean ability; he studied the various branches of physic successfully; he was president of the Royal College of Physicians; and he was so great a benefactor of the botanical gardens at Chelsea that he greatly enriched them with scarce and curious plants
Jamie Wong

Jamie Wong is a modern day apothecary, who describes himself as an ethnobotanist.

We were given his book for Christmas...

Here is a promotional clip for his series "Grow your own drugs"

The first recipe of his that we are going to try uses elderflowers and berries. Luckily we planted a Elder hedge 18 months ago, so we will soon have a good crop of berries.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Knot gardens...

Knot gardens were popularised in English gardens in the mid-15th century, when the stability of the nation was reflected in the increasing confidence of domestic architecture. People had the time, money and security to make their gardens a haven for relaxation. Knot gardens, mazes and labyrinths were all common, and provided intellectual puzzles to amuse the viewer.

The hedges themselves were made up of a variety of plants, usually two or more, and originally were planted with woody herbs. In the 17th century the versatile box hedge became the most common border plant. Some knot gardens had the spaces between the hedges filled with colourful and fragrant plants, others with coloured gravel or stones.

Knots had both a practical and symbolic purpose in Tudor England - they were used for everything from fashion to farming. Decorative designs incorporating knot patterns could be found on textiles, woodwork and in the garden. Knots represented the tying together of disparate elements, unity and strength. Many of the designs for knot gardens have this symbolic element.

As the fashion for formal gardens faded with the Landscape movement of the 18th century, knot gardens also fell out of favour. It was up to the Victorians to revive them, and they loved to fill the compartments with banks of colourful bedding plants.

In our potager we are creating 2 knot gardens. Both are 5m x5m squares, with a centre circle surrounded by four quadrants as below. In the centre of one, the culinary knot garden, is a large weeping rose (below) which we have transplanted from our current address; in the centre of the other, the medicinal knot garden, is the dovecot (minus the doves).

Although not as complex as the examples above, I think that the design for our knot garden is right for our purposes (it needs to have enough room to plant herbs between the borders) ...

After colouring and photoshopping...

Most people are familiar with Buxus Sempervirens, a very popular and versatile plant for small hedges...

But less common is the lovely silver hedging plant, Teucrium fruiticans...

Teucrium fruticans aka silver germander is a great hedging plant. It is prolifically growing, likes to be severely trimmed regularly, forms good dense hedging and provides a great silver alternative to buxus hedging. Thus, a perfect plant to use for a two-tone knot design, and also a great hedge for us to further define the borders of the Bluebell walk, especially given it also has delicate purple flowers.

We shall have both Buxus and Teucrium interwoven...

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Launch of ''...

As many readers will know, we are hoping in the fullness of time to offer Willowbrook Park as a venue in which couples may celebrate their weddings and civil unions. In the interim it gives me great pleasure to announce that Peter has now received confirmation that he is a registered marriage celebrant within New Zealand.

He has just launched his own website/blog:

Whilst Peter offers this service independent of Willowbrook Park, and there is no commercial connection, there will be his natural association with Willowbrook, of which couples may wish to take advantage.

" We turned to Peter for advice about planning the ceremony. He was very helpful to us, with lots of good advice about the details of the service - his background as a priest made him a great source of information. Peter is patient, supportive, and has a wonderful sense of humour, and manages a great rapport with all whom he meets...and we would recommend him to any future couple."
- Kahl and Cristina Betham.

"I commend him to you wholeheartedly for his ability to conduct weddings in a most wonderful manner, with sincerity, empathy and thoughtfulness...he was able to put the bride and groom at ease which greatly helped them overcome their nerves on such a momentous day. Peter also brought great warmth to his service in welcoming everybody who was there to witness the marriage, and all the guests remarked on the delightful way in which he conducted the celebration."
- Angela Harris, Baroness Harris of Richmond

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dorothy Armstrong Commission...

We commissioned a small sculpture of our beloved Willoughby from a local potter, Dorothy Armstrong...

We sent several photos to her, including the one above of Willoughby as a puppy, which was obviously the photo which inspired her the most. Needless to say, we are thrilled with the piece, and pleased to support local artists of such talent.

About Dorothy Armstrong

"A love of nature inspires Dorothy's work. Each piece being individually hand sculptured. "I try to put some of the character of the animal or bird into each piece that I make." Dorothy says.

Much of her recent work is Raku fired, but she also fire platters and sculptures to stoneware temperatures in her gas kiln. Dorothy's work varies in size from tiny porcelain fantails to large out door sculptures including birdbaths and fountains.

Dorothy sells her work at selected galleries and at exhibitions and also enjoys the challenge of being commissioned to make individual pieces for people.
Often Dorothy will also create sculptures of peoples favoured pets, immortilising them whilst giving them that special touch.

Above: Some more of her work at the local gallery


The Raku firing is an ancient Japanese technique. The pottery piece is first bisque fired to 1000deg C in a gas kiln. Then it is painted with a low fired glaze and placed in a small gas fired kiln which is rapidly brought up to 1000deg C to melt the glaze. The piece is quickly removed with tongs to a drum of sawdust and paper which ignites with the heat. The drum is then covered tightly to cut off oxygen. This causes oxygen to be taken from the oxides in the glazes. Amazing blues, greens, golds and copper hues develop as the piece is taken from the sawdust and oxygen re-introduced a few minutes later. Cold water is poured over the piece to cool it and keep the colours from disappearing. Smoke from the sawdust gives a distinctive appearance to the crackle glazes. These unique pieces are built with a strong clay designed to resist the extreme thermal shock, but because they are low fired require gentle handling".

- Art

Monday, March 7, 2011


Above: One of eight paintings of topiary at Hartwell House gardens. Sir Thomas Lee (1687-1749) of Hartwell commissioned the paintings from Balthasar Nebot, a little-known Spanish painter based in Covent Garden. They are a unique record of the country estate and garden at this time.

Topiary (from the latin topiarus (landscape gardener) is the horticultural art of creating living sculpture out of plants. The forms can range from the simple yet stylish geometric forms...

to the more fanciful animals and other subjects.

Once only trained hands crafted these masterpieces...

However, wire framing is often used nowadays to aid correct form and support both the plant and the budding topiarist.

Levens Hall

Levens Hall is a manor house in Cumbria. The first house on the site was a Pele tower built by the Redman family in around 1350, but most of the present building dates from the Elizabethan era, when the Bellingham family extended the house. They were responsible for the fine panelling and plasterwork in the main rooms. Further additions were made in the late 17th and early 19th centuries.

Levens is now owned by the Bagot family and is open to the public. It has a celebrated topiary garden, and also a deer park inhabited by fallow deer and goats.

The gardens are grade I listed and date from 1694. Through a combination of circumstance and love, the gardens have survived in their original design. The topiary is some of the oldest in the world and justifiably famous. The historic topiary garden also incorporates a small orchard of apple trees and medlars, a nuttery and herb garden, a bowling green, a rose garden, herbaceous borders and seasonal bedding.

Above: The Levens gardeners at work in 1950.

Below: Some of the Topiary designs found at Levens

More fanciful Topiary...

Below: Ladew Garden

Seeing the more outlandish topiary that some gardeners dream up (like the racing car above) puts me in mind of a sketch from the BBC comedy Little Britain, whose opening scenes showcase various lewd topiary designs...

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