William Morris once said “have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful and do not believe to be beautiful.” In many ways the same could be said of a garden, although we tend to keep along the lines of more beautiful than useful these days.
Going back in to history the garden was a working area, part of the kitchen, the space put to use, nothing grown that didn’t have a practical use within the home. Now we are making a return to vegetable growing as the UK becomes more and more preoccupied with the provenance of their food, however few gardens are turned over entirely to veggies, most simply offering a small corner for a few carrots or a pot of herbs. It is also very rare for the modern garden to contain items that have use outside of the cooking pot. Most of us have heard of, or even seen, an apothecary’s garden for example, but there are not many of us who grow plants for medicinal purposes – even those who regularly make use of tinctures and teas to soothe or improve. Despite this it is relatively simple to plant and maintain your own apothecary garden with many books on the subject of growing, preparing and using herbal remedies, including Annie Mcintyre’s The Apothecary’s Garden: How To Grow And Use Your Own Herbal Remedies.
In planting an apothecary garden it is worth considering that the most commonly used plants in herbal use end with the term ‘officianalis’. Alternatively you may wish to check the ingredients lists of favourite herbal teas or take notes in a shop selling herbal remedies. Find good quality plants from specialist herb suppliers such as Jekka McVicar at Jekka’s Herb Farm, an associate of Jamie Oliver, who stocks culinary herb seeds as well as those for other uses.
Don’t be afraid that a herbal garden won’t be beautiful – the pretty yellow primrose, the aroma of liquorice, beautiful aromatic lavender, the overpowering smell of peppermint are all things which you’ll find in a garden where plants are used for usefulness. And remember that rosehips have long been used for their flavour while the delicate plumes of fennel and brightly coloured summer flowers of Echinacea are equally beautiful and useful.
In an apothecary garden consider using large bots and troughs, grouping together those plants which can be used for one purpose. Be sure to label everything so it is easily found and always buy from a reputable, organic supplier wherever possible. Mix together plants for traditional British remedies with those perhaps which are used in Ayurvedic medicine, such as henna, lemon grass or holy basil, or with those used in Chinese herbalism – mugwort or red sage. But do be aware that many plants used in Eastern medicine will not flourish in our frosty European climes.
In making a garden useful you are not only harking back to days gone by but making your garden a true extension of your home, where every room has a distinctive use.