Our Garden at Erasmus Darwin House has been a joy to wander through or sit in on a summer day for many years thanks to the unceasing commitment and botanical knowledge of John Tilt with occasional assistance from a handful of other volunteers.
The gardens are formally divided into Mrs. Darwin’s culinary herb garden and Dr Drawin’s medicinal herb garden. A booklet featuring 12 culinary and 12 medicinal herbs (although a number have both uses) is available from the museum. We have developed Garden Discovery worksheets for young people which is also available from the museum.
Most of our plants are clearly labelled with both common and botanical names.
In addition to our two gardens we have a Plant Stall. This is stocked with culinary herbs grown by students at HMP Brinsford under the guidance of Jon Ensell.
For two years now we have had a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the students, using their heated greenhouse for propagation, are providing batches of plants for display in the garden, plants for educational use by school parties and plants for sale.
An ‘A’ board in the walkway bears a gusset which contains a laminated A4 size information sheet featuring our Plant of the Month.
We also have a link with Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic growing charity, has been at the forefront of the organic horticulture movement for 50 years and is dedicated to researching and promoting organic gardening, farming and food. The Heritage Seed Library aims to conserve and make available vegetable varieties that are not widely available. The HSL Department maintains a collection, mainly of European varieties. Erasmus Darwin House has been allocated two “orphaned” varieties namely Rat’s Tail Radish and Macedonian Sweet Pepper. The Seeds were kindly germinated at HMP Brinsford and transplanted into our newly installed raised bed on the south side of the House during June. We are committed to allowing these vegetables to go to seed which will then be returned to Garden Organic at Ryton on Dunsmore. In due course these varieties will again be available for purchase through the Garden Organic scheme.
Plant of the Month - Violet
VIOLET Viola odorata Family Violaceae
Common name: Sweet violet, Wood violet, English violet.
In Greek mythology the violet was the flower of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and of her son, Priapus, the goddess of gardens. It is the symbol of Athens. In the last half of the 19th Century acres were cultivated to grow it as a market garden plant. No lady of quality would venture out without wearing a bunch of violets.
Distribution: There are records of sweet violets growing during the first century AD inPersia,Syria andTurkey. It is also native of N Africa and Europe.
Description: Hardy perennial height 7cm, spread 15cm or more. The flowers appear in late winter to early spring. They are aromatic, normally either dark violet or white. The leaves and flowers are all in a basal rosette, the style is hooked (and does not end with a rounded appendage), the leaf-stalks have hairs which point downwards, and the plant spreads with stolons (above-ground shoots). The species can be found near the edges of forests or in clearings; it is also a common “uninvited guest” in shaded lawns or elsewhere in gardens. It has been hybridized to produce Palma violets in a range of rich colours.
Culinary use: The flowers are well known in crystallized form for decorating cakes, puddings, ice-cream and home-made sweets.
Medicinal use: The rootstock has been used to produce a soothing expectorant and used to treat bronchitis whooping cough and head colds. It is said to have a cooling nature and has been used to treat hangovers.
This may be the species mentioned in Shakespeare’s famous lines:-
“I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine”
Refs: Wikipedia & Jekka’s Complete Herb Book