Weleda Gardens: Experiencing a medicinal plant garden in England’s Derbyshire
Learning Herbology is a process of experimenting and experiencing, so when I was invited to Weleda’s medicinal plant gardens in Ilkeston, in England’s county of Derbyshire, I was delighted. This was an opportunity for me to get up close and personal with many of the herbs that I’ve been studying, as well as become more acquainted with a natural beauty and pharmaceuticals company I have long admired for their commitment to the wellbeing of the planet, the environment, and the people.
On a drizzly Saturday morning in June, I was introduced to Weleda UK’s 13-acre garden, a couple of miles up the road from the company’s Derbyshire headquarters, by one of the gardeners and guardians, Al. The Shipley-based garden, known as The Field, is where the gardening team grows a variety of herbs, shrubs, hedges, and trees for use in Weleda products, mainly medicinal and homeopathic products that Weleda manufacture in Derbyshire.
The gardens are home to a wonderful array of trees and some 300-plus plant species. A tour of the gardens began with a group of birch trees. Potent with magickal properties that include protection and renewal, the leaves from the birch tree are used in Weleda’s Birch Juice given its medicinal use in detoxification. These tall, slender and graceful trees share a place in the Weleda gardens with rows of plant beds, where the likes of Valerian, Feverfew, Echinacea, Milk Thistle, and White Peony grow, among other herbs and plants.
The Weleda gardens are managed by a team that put a whole lot of TLC into their work. The gardeners administer traditional farming methods, so they rotate the growing beds annually; they compost so they can feed the soil from their own plant materials; most of their gardening work is done by hand rather than relying on machinery, and they use their own seed bank – so everything is native to the land. The plants and herbs are grown using organic methods and to, what is known as biodynamic standards.
Biodynamics is an approach to agriculture devised by Austrian philosopher and Weleda co-founder, Rudolph Steiner in 1924. Regenerative and transformative by its very nature, biodynamics seeks to maximize the health and vitality of soils, crops, and livestock. The precursor to organics, all biodynamic farmers and growers practice organic methods of production, are against genetic modification (GM), and share similar certification standards. However, biodynamics differs from organics in that it acknowledges the source of everything, the spiritual, and has its roots in the spiritual. Applied to agriculture this would involve an intuitive awareness of what the earth, flora, and fauna require to regenerate and improve agriculture. That may include working with the Lunar Calendar – being aware of the influences of the Moon, planets, and constellations on plant growth.
Essentially biodynamics applies a holistic approach to Nature’s needs, seeing the bigger picture as opposed to the rather minute view that science sees and seeks. While Rudolph Steiner was recognized as a scientist, he always sought the spiritual in all aspects of his life as he understood exactly what it took to be “in harmony with nature and the human being”, Weleda’s mantra.
As I meandered through the gardens, it was amazing to see so much diversity within the gardens – including a pond, a field where compost sits and grass snakes apparently frequent, and an abundance of healthy bees, a valuable part of the Weleda gardens team since they pollinate the plants. Naturally, the gardens are also home to an apiary, cared for by beekeeper Mick. The bees provide the natural beeswax used in Weleda’s Calendula Weather Protection Cream and Everon Lip Balm, while organic honey is used in Weleda’s Herb and Honey Cough Elixir. What especially stood out next to the apiary was a hanging hive, suspended high up on a pole. A gift to the bees, the Sun Hive is an additional home for the garden’s bee team.
The Weleda gardens appear to have been landscaped circularly as the complete garden tour was like walking a circle, honoring all the elements. As we walked away from the apiary, we came to the vast meadow, which showcased a beautiful mix of wildflowers. Had we had time and had it not been drizzling, I would have gladly parked my happy booty down somewhere and admired the meadow in glee.
A change in landscape led us to a woodland area, where the likes of hazardous plant, Poison Ivy grows. Fenced off, the poisonous plant, which is used in Weleda’s medicines that relieve arthritic conditions, can only be handled by the team in full hazmat suits.
Further along came the calendula fields, which with their bright orange color served as a sunny welcome on a day where the sun itself was clouded over. The color of the calendula flowers was such a beautiful fluorescent orange that my smartphone camera could not do the shade justice. Calendula is used across many of Weleda’s products including natural medicines as well as their popular baby range.
Following on, we were shown smaller crops that included Garlic and the rather majestic Scotch Thistle. En-route to where we began the tour and coming full circle, I couldn’t keep my eyes off a lone tree which stood in the center of the field keeping a watchful eye on the grounds. It appeared to be a variety of cedar, one of my favorite trees, with an abundance of branches.
As the tour drew to a natural close, it was at this point that I had a heightened awareness of the unconditional love emanating from the natural space, its inhabitants, and the gardeners/guardians, and a knowing that this special tour was indeed for me personally as much about providing a space in which to honor thy source, as it was about seeing the herbs I’ve been learning about in their true form in their most natural state growing from the earth itself.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living and is also learning Herbology.