Growing medicinal herbs

There must be a gardening gene, I muse as I gaze at Davina Wynne Jones’ Cotswold garden. As the daughter of Rosemary and David Verey it must have been preordained that she should make a garden. In fact, it was never her intention and she ended up creating a garden of medicinal herbs almost by accident.

medicinal herbs
Medicinal herbs fill the borders

Davina’s original plan was to have a herb nursery but she quickly decided it would not produce much of an income. However, it had sparked an interest in medicinal herbs and before long Herbs for Healing was born.

The company, run from a field behind her parents’ former home, Barnsley House, sells ointments, face creams and oils made using herbs and flowers, many of them grown by Davina.

medicinal herbs
St John’s Wort

And so the gardening gene kicked in as she found herself almost instinctively putting together a garden.

“Because they are indigenous plants, not hybrids or cultivars, they have wonderful soft colours and so the colours look good together,” she explains. “It began to get more like a garden but it was not my intention in the first place.”

On the surface, her garden is very different from the world famous and listed Barnsley House. It has a softer, less designed feel without the clipped topiary that has made features like the potager and herb garden so well known.

medicinal herbs

Also, because of the plants she grows, the display tends to peak at this time of year rather than being the year-round show her mother created; Davina has added some non-medicinal planting to give colour during May when she opens for the annual Barnsley Village Festival.

Scratch the surface though and the design influence of Rosemary Verey is clear. The garden has a strong axis running through, from a rustic gate past overflowing borders to an end focal point.

medicinal herbs
The main axis leads to the ‘magic circle’

Adding a vista at Barnsley from the temple to the frog fountain to run at right angles to an existing axis was one of her parents’ first projects, says Davina.

“I’ve not got a double vista yet but I’m working on it.”

medicinal herbs
Californian poppies

Indeed, having what she describes as ‘good bones’ underpins her garden: the borders are laid out to the proportions of the golden sequence, which is often found in nature; there may not be clipped topiary but there are strong verticals, including a willow tree that partial hides the garden beyond, creating a sense of discovery.

“I learned about texture from my mother and I have lot of different leaves and textures,” says Davina, adding with a laugh “Not because I ever listened to her particularly.”

It seems some things are just passed on subliminally.

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Yarrow is pretty and useful

It had been a few years since I last visited and the then planned finale to the garden is now in place. This is what Davina describes as her magic circle, an area enclosed by a beautiful structure fashioned from hawthorn that was being cleared from a 6,000-year-old long barrow in the area.

“Hawthorn is traditionally protective,” explains Davina. “It has been sacred from Anglo Saxon times.”

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The garden has a relaxing atmosphere

Within the circle are plants long associated with magic, fairies and folk lore, including evening primrose, mandrake, henbane and Artemesia vulagaris, or mugwort.

Paths laid out in concentric circles lead you towards a water feature made by sculptor Tom Verity, whose father, Simon, made pieces for Barnsley House. Its reflective water gives another dimension to the space.

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Tom Verity’s water feature sits in the magic circle

In the borders are medicinal herbs that will aid every ailment, including St John’s Wort, used for treating wounds, aching joints and mild anxiety, Leonurus cardiaca, or motherwort, which has calming properties, Verbena officinalis (vervain) that Davina uses to help against glaucoma, and Galega officinalis (goat’s rue), which is good for balancing sugar levels. Chicory aids digestion, yarrow is an anti-inflammatory and Californian poppies have, says Davina, the same effect as opium without being addictive.

Some things, such as rose petals for making essential oils, are brought in as she cannot grow enough and others are gathered in the neighbouring countryside.

“I have a larder in my head of where things grow.”

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Some of the dried herbs

Just three years after starting the garden, she was accepted into the National Gardens Scheme and has opened regularly for them ever since.

“In a way I wonder if part of it was pleasing my parents, although they had both been dead for some years,” she says. “The fact that Davina could have created an NGS garden in three years would have surprised them.”

Herbs for Healing, Barnsley, Gloucestershire, is open for the National Gardens Scheme from 10.30-4.30pm on Wednesday July 27. Admission is £3, children enter free.

For details about other opening times, products and workshops, visit Herbs for Healing

Read about my visit to Barnsley House here

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Barnsley House starts again

Blight, battles and bold beginnings

The laburnum arch at Barnsley House with its golden racemes of flowers hanging down to meet purple alliums below is a picture familiar to garden-lovers the world over. So it came as a surprise to see the garden without the original.

True the last time I met up with head gardener Richard Gatenby we talked about the need for replacement but that didn’t prepare me for the difference it has made.

Barnsley House
How the garden used to look

What had been, even this early in the season, a fairly shady spot is now wide open, changing the dynamics of the planting and giving hitherto unseen views across the garden, created by the late Rosemary Verey.

Revelling in this extra light, things under the arch and in nearby borders are lush and full; leucojum no longer strains for the light and Geranium tuberosum now needs no staking. When I visited red Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’ was in full blaze but the alliums were showing, promising a good display, and there were tiny flower buds on the new laburnum.

Barnsley House
Tulipa ‘Apeldoorn’ was blazing under the new arch

The five-strong Barnsley House team decided against replacing the laburnums, planted in the 1960s, with specially trained trees. Instead they bought what Richard describes as “normal nursery trees” and hand-tied them into a new metal arch, made by blacksmith Michael Clifford from nearby Birdlip, in much the same way that Mrs Verey did.

It’s a method that will give a less polished finish but one that Richard, who has been at Barnsley for nearly 17 years, believes was “part of the charm of the laburnum arch”.

“You get this lovely gardenesque character to it as opposed to something precise.”

Barnsley House
The view from the Temple Garden

Now in its second season, it will probably take another four before the arch begins to approach the display of the original but the signs are good.

Barnsley House, former home of Mrs Verey, a designer who contributed to Highgrove among others, is now a boutique hotel and normally open only to guests. There are some charity days though and this weekend sees the garden, along with several others, open for the village’s 28th annual festival with the gardens competition being judged by Sir Roddy Llewellyn.

Barnsley House
Erythronium were putting on a good show

As well as changes to the laburnum arch, regular visitors will be able to detect other alterations in the garden, albeit not on such a dramatic scale.

Removing the laburnums gave the team the chance to lift and divide the understorey of planting, while tackling some of the perennial weeds. It’s a battle that is being slowly waged across the garden with a determined campaign against wild chicory and, in particular, ground elder.

Barnsley House
Baby chard leaves are used by the hotel’s kitchen

Richard admits this had been approached in a rather ad hoc fashion: a bit of digging up; some general spraying of weedkiller; the occasional more targeted application. Now they have decided to work systematically through each bed during the autumn and winter, lifting all but established shrubs and thoroughly clearing the ground and leaving time before replanting with perennials.

Mindful of the need to maintain a good display for Barnsley House guests, Richard will plug any temporary gaps with annual colour including cosmos and dahlias.

Barnsley House
The team work hard to give year-round colour

Plants they want to keep, such as peonies, are being propagated so that they can replant with young, vigorous replacements and don’t have the hassle of trying to store the originals.

“We won’t have the bother of worrying about transplanting them.”

It’s a big job but one that Richard feels is necessary.

“The worst thing you can do is nothing,” he comments.

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Forget-me-nots edging a potager border

He is also taking the opportunity to research Mrs Verey’s original planting and reintroduce things that may have been lost, including more clematis, particularly viticella types.

The other major concern is one common to gardens I see across the region: box blight. The famous knot garden is showing signs of disease and there is blight in many of the garden’s iconic clipped box.

Already the herb garden and some hedges in the potager have been dug up and the team are trialling Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ as a replacement for the low box hedges. Meanwhile, the large box balls are being sprayed regularly with Topbuxus Health-Mix. It will be interesting to see if they can be salvaged.

Barnsley House
Box has been replaced in the herb garden

Elsewhere, the vegetable garden, created in the adjacent ridge and furrow field, is getting a new planting of bulbs and meadow flowers to make the immediate impact more appealing.

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Euonymus hedges are also being tried in the potager

“It’s not quite an orthodox meadow but something that will have colour through a lot of the season.”

Rethinking and renewing are important in any garden and something that Richard feels is a major part of his role: “We’ve trying to keep the garden young, vigorous and youthful.”

Barnsley Village Festival runs from 9.30-5 on Saturday May 14 with a ‘garden passport’ providing access to the gardens. There will be guided tours at Barnsley House and Herbs for Healing.

The festival also includes The Salvation Army Band, maypole dancing, an organ recital, morris dancing, jazz, a juggling show, a BBQ and refreshments.

For more details, visit Barnsley Festival

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Barnsley leads flower hunt

Barnsley House’s head gardener will be leading the hunt for a rare seasonal flower this Easter.

Richard Gatenby will head a morning trek in search of the meadow Pasque Flower. Extremely rare in the UK, this delicate purple bloom is found in only a few places, including a spot a few miles from Barnsley.

pasque flower
The pasque flower is found near Barnsley House

The trek is open to guests on a special package at Barnsley House, the former home of garden designer Rosemary Verey and now a hotel.

The package, includes an evening screening of ‘Greenfingers’ in the hotel’s private cinema, and use of the spa facilities. Provisional dates, subject to flowering, are April 12/13 and 19/20.

For details and to book call 01285 740000 or email

Please, Santa, can I have . . .

Unlike some of my nearest and dearest, gardening friends and family are easy when it comes to buying presents. Newcomers to the joys of growing can be given starter kits of forks, trowels and fool-proof seeds while there are unusual plants and top quality tools for seasoned campaigners. And everyone loves a book.

But what of the professionals for whom gardening is not a hobby but a way of life? I’ve been talking to the head gardeners at some of the Cotswolds’ best known plots and asking them to share their letters to Santa.

At Barnsley House, home of the late Rosemary Verey, head gardener Richard Gatenby is hoping for new tools, but not just any old fork and spade. He has his eye on some traditionally made items from Holland.

“Dutch tools do it for me,” he explains. “I’d love the DeWit planting spade. It has a beautiful curve to the shaft and not too big a blade. But I’d need boot protectors!”

Richard Gatenby
Richard Gatenby at Barnsley House

Richard, who worked with Mrs Verey on the world famous garden, is also hoping for a Great Dixter Tickling Fork. Designed by another horticultural giant, the late Christopher Lloyd, and made by Sneeboer, it is ideal for working the soil in tightly planted beds.

“I like the sound of it and again it just looks perfect.”

At Batsford Arboretum, head gardener Matthew Hall is in charge of 56 acres of woodland and garden that include the National Collection of Japanese flowering cherries. The wide-ranging arboretum has around 1,300 different trees, shrubs and bamboo, and more than 2,850 labelled specimens.

Matthew Hall
Matthew Hall wants help keeping track of the trees

Unsurprisingly, top of his Christmas list is something to make keeping a track of everything a little easier.

“If someone was to hand me a GPS system to map the arboretum and catalogue the plant collection, I would be very happy!” he says.

The Indian Garden at Sezincote

It’s not trees but vegetables that are on Greg Power’s mind this Christmas with a wish list that encompasses something that’s practical and beautiful.

Greg Power
Greg Power

Greg, who took over as head gardener at Sezincote earlier this year is hoping to see some forcing pots under the tree.

“I’d like some that are a modern design and some old 19th century ones,” he says. “I want them for my sea kale.”

One of the Cotswolds’ newest head gardeners is Vicky Cody, who took over as Gardener in Charge at Snowshill Manor in April. She’s hoping for an old-fashioned scythe to use in Snowshill’s orchard, a quieter alternative to a flail mower and strimmer.

Snowshill Manor
Snowshill Manor

“I also think it’s good to keep old techniques and practices alive,” says Vicky, “and it’s much more in the spirit of Snowshill and would be kinder to the environment to boot.

“If Poldark happened to come along with the scythe – even better!” she adds.

Vicky Cody
Vicky and Cookie, who is looking for a coat

And after a wet autumn, she has also looking for a fleecy, lined, waterproof jacket for her spaniel, Cookie.

Meanwhile, Vicky’s former boss Glyn Jones at Hidcote Manor Garden is after beauty and creature comforts.

Top of his list are some mohair socks, such as those sold by former TV presenter Selina Scott.

Glyn Jones
Glyn is hoping for a ready to flower wisteria

“I already have one pair and they are so toasty,” explains Glyn, who is Garden and Countryside Manager at Hidcote. “Having spent many years with cold feet these are simply fantastic.”

Plants are also welcome, particularly a dark blue wisteria – “Grafted as I don’t want to wait ten-plus years to see its first flower” – and a pink clematis, such as C. x vedrariensis ‘Hidcote’, to climb through it.

“It’s a classic pink and blue combination and would screen a fence in my back garden at home.

“So, something to warm the heart and something to warm the toes!” adds Glyn.

At Colesbourne Park, home of Sir Henry and Lady Elwes, head gardener Chris Horsfall has his eye on a set of grading riddles for sorting seed.

Chris Horsfall
Chris Horsfall selling snowdrops at Colesbourne Park

“It’s loads of fun and pretty important when planting a garden,” he explains, “but seeds vary so much that one riddle simply won’t do.”

A new Silky Fox pruning saw is another request: “They’re one of the best saws, so convenient and sharp. They are as necessary as your secateurs when you’re out and about in the garden.”

Finally, he wants something to combat the cold in this garden famous for its snowdrops: “Above all, I would love a wood-burning stove for the potting shed. It’s a long winter and autumn, and spring can be challenging too. A wood-burner turns a damp shed into salvation. Yes please, Santa!”