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Healing Herbs: A Modern Apothecary Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show


Healing Herbs: A Modern Apothecary Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show

May 25, 2016

Her name is synonymous with herbs though Jekka McVicar usually talks about and sells them. At this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London, Jekka’s herbs are given new context in a small paved garden, surrounded by an herbal ley. What is that, you may ask:

Photography by Jim Powell for Gardenista.


Above: Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary Garden at Chelsea, which was awarded a silver-gilt medal.

Although Jekka’s herb farm in Somerset is home to a vast collection of culinary herbs, the Modern Apothecary Garden has been designed for healing. The shape is calmingly round, while the corners of the space have been softened with longish grass.


Above: In fact it isn’t 100 percent grass but is made of a combination of beneficial herbs including wild oregano, yarrow, plantain, salad burnet, sorrel, St John’s-wort, and meadowsweet. Jekka deliberately kept them back from flowering, so that the edging remains green. An herbal ley, as this is called, can be mown or allowed to grow, in which case its colors and height bring life to the edges of a garden, attracting pollinators. Ox-eye daisy and campion are also hidden in here.

Any grass verge or traditional lawn that has not been over-managed will contain a selection of these plants. Deliberately-grown herbal leys (seed mixes are available to buy in the UK), are appreciated for building up soil fertility and adding a diversity that is lacking in the monoculture of a perfect lawn.


Above: Superfood linseed (the blue flower shown here) is at home among the aromatics of Jekka’s apothecary garden. Linseed is seriously multi-tasking. Its Omega 3 fats benefit the brain, heart, joints while boosting immunity, and the high occurrence of phytoestrogens in linseed gives it a reputation as an alternative hormone replacement therapy.


Above: Behind each bench is a backdrop of plaited willow, sprouting from the top. As it grows, it will be pollarded, the stems maintaining their shape. It is sourced from Baugaarden in Holland. White willow (Salix alba) has a long association with pain relief.


Above: Theatrical angelica takes center stage from this side of the garden, accompanied by fennel, chives, artemisia, borage, parsley, bay, and sage.

The Modern Apothecary Garden is smaller than the show gardens on Main Avenue, being the size of an average urban backyard. It is also more easily translated into reality. The after-show life of the garden was kept in mind during the design process since the plan has always been to move it in its entirety to St John’s Hospice in St John’s Wood, North West London.


Above: Benches are made for a comfortable one or a cozy two. It’s a good shape for a small garden, while being psychologically more positive than a vast empty bench. Circles of cobbles are tactile for bare feet, enclosing circles of thyme (which loves to be stepped on).


Above: An irresistible round carpet of thyme, including Thymus ‘Jekka’. The herbs in the show are available to buy, having been grown at Jekka’s “herbetum.”

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