Herbal Travels: Visiting Gardens During My Herbal Vacation

Reader Contribution by Lemon Verbena Lady
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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden.

I know it is tough for some of you to take a vacation, even when the weather is as hot and summery as it has been for most the country. So because part of my mission is to travel, I am going to take you on my vacations that I took last year to various herb gardens. So sit back and relax, because I am about to take you through Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Glencoe (a suburb of Chicago), Illinois; De Steeg, Netherlands; and Sault and Pertuis in the region of Provence, France.

Holt Physic Garden

One of the highlights on our trip to Vancouver last May was my visit to the Harold and Frances Holt Physic Garden in the University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens. It is modeled after a 16th century Dutch engraving of a monastic garden.

I loved that it is an intimate garden surrounded by a yew hedge to protect the “ignorant” from the many poisonous plants the garden contains. The hedge is protecting me because I have so much to learn about medicinal herbs, never mind that some may be poisonous! 

The Holt Physic Garden is a formal garden that contains 12 concentric brick-edged beds surrounding a sundial. It uses the Doctrine of Signatures, which is an ancient belief that plants are marked with a divine sign indicating their purpose. (For example, lungwort looked like a diseased lung so it was thought to aid in pulmonary diseases.) The garden is best viewed from early spring through early autumn. It obtained herbal seeds for plants from the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, and carries on a historical legacy of seed exchanges between physic gardens in general. The Holts wanted to maintain the connection to Chelsea and introduce medicinal plants of documented wild origin. Here is a post that I wrote in 2011 called Herbal Travels:  The Chelsea Physic Garden of London, which will give you a brief history of the Chelsea Physic Garden. If you are going to be in the Vancouver area or live near the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, pay the physic garden a visit. I know you and your family will enjoy it. 

Middachten Castle Gardens

Now we are off across the pond to a castle called Middachten Castle in De Steeg, Netherlands, which we visited during the month of July. This castle is still lived in and run by the Countess Ortenburg-Bentinck and Count zu Ortenburg, although they also run a bed and breakfast with rooms you can rent. In general, the castle is only open on Sundays to the public in July and August, so we could only see the gardens on the day we were there.

The gardens of Middachten Castle are styled in the baroque manner of the 18th century. There is a beautiful rose garden and many perennial borders, but I was really excited to see the herb garden. You enter the herb garden from the orangery, an enclosure that is used to house tropical plants placed in the gardens to add visual interest and stay protected during cold weather. You won’t believe what one of those plants in the containers was. Lemon verbena! It was a beautiful herb garden set up in the style of a kitchen garden. On their website you will find their garden schedule, which features their tour of the herb garden on August 12, 2012 in the afternoon. Middachten Castle is well worth a visit if you live in the area or are planning a visit to the Netherlands in the near future.

Lavender Fields in Provence 

On my next visit, I checked off an item from my herbal bucket list: the lavender fields of Provence. During my visit in July I found that both Lavandula angustifolia and L. x intermedia could be found in the lavender fields near Sault, France. I also learned that lavender thrives in very dry and rocky soil. No wonder it doesn’t always do well in our clay soils in southwestern Pennsylvania! The fragrance of lavender is a real stress reliever, and the smell was everywhere we went in Provence.   

We also made a trip to Château Val-Joanis in Pertuis, France to see their amazing kitchen garden. There is a sign at the entrance that says jardin remarquable: a remarkable garden!

Pictured is just a small section of the garden showing lavender blooming and Italian cypress trees. They also had fruit trees, vegetables, ornamental plants and herbs with a touch of whimsy in the style of a French potager. 

Chicago Botanic Garden

Our final visit will be to Glencoe, Illinois and one of my favorite botanic gardens: the Chicago Botanic Garden. If you are in the Chicago area and love herbs, the Chicago Botanic Garden is having an Herb Garden Weekend on July 28 and 29, 2012. Click on the link and you will find a schedule of herbal displays, demonstrations, vendors and more.

All Photos by Nancy Heraud

The Herbal Husband and I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden herb garden in October. We have found that fall is a particular nice time to travel. It was a glorious day and the herb garden was still full of herbs and flowers, particularly a whole bed of nasturtiums. I know in my garden, nasturtiums keep blooming with the cooler temperatures in the fall season. I wrote about nasturtiums in a post called Edible Delights: 3 Nasturtium Recipes. The herb garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden is an intimate space but full of delicious smells and colors. This herb garden is shaped in a circular fashion and filled with herbs that would be used in cooking and medicine. The beds are separated by wattle fencing and the design is more informal. The herbs are allowed to flower and self-seed making them attractive for bees and butterflies. I hope you can visit this wonderful botanic garden or participate in their Herb Garden Weekend on July 28 and 29, 2012.

I always try to find herb gardens wherever I may be in my travels. I hope you have enjoyed this virtual herbal vacation. Stop by my blog, Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden, where I will have more photos of this virtual herbal vacation for you to see. Here is a link for a post I did for Visit to Middachen Castle last year, and a post about places we visited in the south of France, namely Graveson and Arles. As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here on this post with a comment or my e-mail at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.com and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.

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