The New Herb Garden and Witch’s House at Woolley Grange Hotel
Last year our head gardener Eliza Reid decided to completely revamp the Woolley Grange Herb Garden. She talked to us about her inspiration and the process of transforming the garden into something fun for grown-ups and kids alike.
Herbs for the Kitchen, Herbs for Healing, Herbs for Dying, Herbs for Skincare and Herbs for Magic… The garden is now divided into five areas. We've made winding gravel paths through the herb beds so you can really get in amongst the herbs to touch and smell them all.
I particularly wanted to engage very young children, so thought we’d have the White Witch of Woolley living here. We’ve built her little house right in the middle of the herb garden and it has herbs and wildflowers growing all over its roof. Kids can go inside and see where she dries all her herbs to makes all her potions, peak into her cauldron to see what's brewing, or maybe have a go at their own spell.
The Witch's house is made out of an old metal pig hut that we covered in a waterproof membrane, chicken wire and then a few tonnes of earth, which we planted into. Inside we laid floorboards and had great fun kitting it out with all her witchy things. I wanted to show children that she was a kind and friendly witch, and definitely not evil as witches are often portrayed in Hollywood these days. She's much more a witch in the old-fashioned sense of the word, more like an old wise woman who uses herbs for good – to cure and heal.
Although we don’t get many sightings of the Witch (she usually leaves early in the morning to go on her foraging trips) you’ll be able to spot the chefs coming down in the morning to pick the herbs they need for the restaurant that day. We’re growing all the usual perennials such as rosemary, sage, mint, chives, thyme and bay, and amongst these we’re growing annual kitchen herbs such as basil, parsley, dill and chervil. We’re also growing some more unusual culinary herbs, including savoury, lovage, sorrel and Good King Henry, so the chefs have plenty to choose from!
In the Herbs for Healing bed we’re growing lots of fantastic medicinal herbs such as feverfew, which is great for headaches, and echinacea, which is good for cold and flu symptoms. Little signs are dotted around explaining what the herbs are used for.
I’m keen to run a few workshops for kids where we make natural dyes to dye our own clothes, so we’re growing woad – a plant that has been used for thousands of years to create a bright blue dye. We’re also growing things such as nettles and dock, which give a good green and yellow respectively.
I love making natural soaps, lotions and balms, and this is another great thing to do with children. We’re growing lots of scented herbs for essential oils and also things like marshmallow, which is great for making lotions. We have a beehive in our orchard so will be using our own wax for our lovely homemade lip balms.
And for a bit of fun we’re growing some magical herbs for our witch’s spells. Actually all of the magical herbs we’ve chosen have healing properties too, so it’s really an extension of the medicinal herb bed, but they are all herbs that have some sort of magical heritage. Some of the magical herbs, like wormwood, will probably be recognised from Harry Potter, and we’re very excited to be growing mandrake – a strange plant steeped in superstition, with roots that look like little humans, with arms, legs and a hairy top!
In amongst all these incredible herbs we’re growing self-seeders including borage, love-in-a-mist, marigolds and nasturtiums. All of these have edible flowers that are used in our delicious summer salads in our restaurant. With the wonderful profusion of flowers and seeds heads, our herb garden is proving to be a haven for wildlife, and you can often see our regular gang of goldfinches flitting about and nibbling at the seed heads, and bees and butterflies galore. So not only is the herb garden a really productive and useful part of the garden, it’s also a beautiful spot to enjoy and stimulate your senses.
Read more about children's activities at Woolley Grange Hotel.