A medicinal garden near Corbridge is the perfect tonic

PUBLISHED: 20:55 21 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:25 20 February 2013

Students on their lunch break enjoying the garden

Students on their lunch break enjoying the garden

This medicinal garden near Corbridge is the perfect tonic, as Linda Viney reports

The physic garden was the place, hundreds of years ago, that doctors went to get their medicines. They would grow their own plants for the medicines they prescribed based on knowledge passed down through the generations. And medicine was also the inspiration behind this thoroughly modern physic garden at Dilston.

It was started by Professor Elaine Perry, the curator, after she became interested in plants that have an effect on the brain during her research on neuroscience at Newcastle University/MRC.

The two acre garden is divided into two levels. The upper level has a bamboo walk with alternating box shrubs and bamboo clumps and is guarded by serene stone Buddhas. There is also a small fruit orchard and a croquet lawn, surrounded by a living library of over 600 species of herbs and cultivars, all clearly labelled with their botanical and common names and medicinal properties.

Ornamental and sage gardens can be found in the next level. The plants are exuberant both in habit and colour, and Elaine has a relaxed attitude towards the plants she calls gypsy plants which have a tendency to move freely round the garden and self seed. Plumes of fennel sway in the breeze and the green globes of angelica flowers shimmer, offering seed heads later in the season. Majestic spires of stately verbascums stand sentinel over bushes of deep purple sage and glowing golden thyme.

The garden was created ten years ago on former pastureland on the south bank of the Tyne Valley, and has been open to the public for eight.

The croquet lawn is surrounded by shrubs and trees as well as the aromatic herbs which thrive in this plot as it is well drained and sunny.

There is plenty of seating which gives visitors time to relax and enjoy the scent wafting through the air, listen to the bees buzzing they have their own hives and take in the beautiful views over the countryside.


Wooden-edged gravel paths intersect the various fragrant herb beds and, tucked away in a tranquil corner, is a small wildlife pond, planted with bog myrtle. Carefully sited wind chimes tinkle in the breeze and the generous planting provides a kaleidoscope of colour ranging from purples and greens through to silvers and golds, with yellow, red and foamy cream.

From the peace and quiet of the terraces, visitors can hear calming sound of the mill water gurgling over the rocky stream bed below.


The garden does its best to follow organically managed principles, all the weeding of the hundreds of herb beds is carried out by hoeing or by hand, no insecticides are used. A concoction of rhubarb and herbs is used to get rid of black fly afflicting the wormwood.

Slug pellets are used though, although they are made of ferric phosphate and do no harm to birds, frogs or even children. This is the nearest strategy to organic that is compatible with survival of many of the plants that would be totally destroyed by an overactive mollusc population. As the pond is alive with frogs and a host of diverse birds and butterflies this surely speaks for itself.

Many of the pots of herbs for sale now come from Dilston College, where students with learning disabilities help prepare them from organically produced herb seeds. Other items for sale include healing tinctures prepared by the local medical herbalist from organic herbs growing in the garden, and aromatic essential oil lotions prepared by a qualified PhD student in essential oil biology. In the small shop you will also find herbal teas and biscuits.

The garden hosts Foundation Courses leading to a diploma, and workshops making perfumes, herbal remedies for animals, along with a number of special courses for children who can learn how to make their own herbal potions.

The garden is cared for by several enthusiastic volunteers and Elaines daughter Nicolette is project manager. For more information about the garden, contact her nslperry@gmail.com.

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