The making of a modern apothecary

A garden at Chelsea Flower Show uses herbs and clever design to create a healing space

Herb health: rosemary is said to be good for the memory. Photograph: Thinkstock

Herb health: rosemary is said to be good for the memory. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

If you had a nasty cough, mouth ulcers, upset tummy or other minor ailment, Jekka McVicar’s mother would go into the garden, pick out a number of herbs, make teas and tinctures from them and wait for them to work their magic.

And this is what has given the award-winning plantswoman the inspiration for The Modern Apothecary, her first show garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London.

She’s hoping gardeners will start to grow the types of healing herbs she features in her show garden, and is also providing some inspiring design ideas for wellbeing in The Modern Apothecary.

A cobbled pathway running through a large circle of planting is designed so that if you walk on it barefoot, you will give yourself some stress-busting reflexology in the process.

In each corner of her show garden is a hawthorn tree, but they aren’t placed there just to be visually pleasing, says McVicar, who has won 62 gold medals as a floral marquee exhibitor at the show. “If you look into any research about Rudolf Steiner [the Austrian philosopher], you realise you never have a corner if you’re feeling depressed. You always can flow round a garden.”

Hawthorns are also known as “bread and cheese” because you can eat the leaf, which is good for strengthening the heart.

A large central circle of planting is split in two by the cobbled path, while two seats are strategically placed near scented plants within the herb garden.

“In Ayurvedic medicine, you are encouraged to sit in a herb garden to heal, so that you are well. Wherever you are, if you sit still, without a phone, without an iPad, and just breathe, it is amazing.”

At the back of the garden are columns of Taxus, or yew, from which taxol is derived and used to treat ovarian and breast cancer. And a wall of espalier pears is planted because it has been proven that pears help prevent Type 2 diabetes in women.

Other plants include hops (a sleep aid) and roses (rose hips for vitamin C), while the path is lined with fragrant lavender, for relaxation.

“One of the key features in the garden will be rosemary, because it’s just been proven that rosemary is as good as ginkgo for the memory. Drinking rosemary tea in the morning really clears your head and settles your stomach.

“If you ever get a cough, all you need is a sprig of thyme and a sprig of hyssop, pop them into a cup, add boiled water, let them steep for five minutes. If you have mouth ulcers, make the infusion from sage, which also feeds the brain.”

“This modern apothecary is what we can do for ourselves today. The seeds are widely available – people can grow their own apothecary in their own garden.” – PA rhs.org.uk/chelsea

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