Just to the south west of the Castle a new rectangular beech hedge encloses triangular beds filled with herbs. I call this relatively new garden “The Healing Herb Garden”. It is not far from the tearooms and I thought it was easy to access for guests who were less mobile. Herbalism is one of the oldest known methods of promoting healing. Different part of the plants may be used from root to flower to seed in a myriad of ways including tinctures and tonics, lotions and potions, teas, stews, salads and disinfectants. Botanic gardens were founded in cities all over the world and for centuries doctors have made their living giving learned lectures on their properties and powers.
In the modern world we turn swiftly to chemists or doctors for pills and antibiotics but in the past herb broths, consommés, rest and, more recently, good hygiene were the first resort. Lavender aided sleep and fennel was for digestion. Sage, from the Latin salvere meaning “to cure” or “to save”, was a basic since, apparently, “a man cannot grow old who has sage in his garden”. Researching, I have planted a selection of these and other herbs alongside small information boards.
As well as the research, I also enjoy the actual planting, weeding and gardening myself. This alone often seems therapeutic and of course my dogs, in their own way, love to help….One herb which grows well and has so many uses is Rosemary. It is very attractive with its small blue flowers but more importantly is said to stimulate the nervous system and circulation, help stress, stop bad dreams and calm indigestion. The essential oil also might help with sciatica or arthritis.
Rosemary is also the name for an appeal launched by our local charity, Newbury Cancer Care, to help build a new wing at our small local hospital in Newbury to provide cancer treatments, consulting rooms and renal dialysis. Newbury Cancer Care is an excellent charity which I have consistently supported over some years. It is focused and specific, providing volunteers to drive those with cancer to hospitals for their treatment often some 50 minutes distance along motorways, waiting with them and driving them back home, helping patients with bills whilst they are so ill and providing practical help and diagnosis support. The Rosemary Appeal, with associated doctors and other support, has spearheaded the complex building agreements and NHS contracts needed for a project such as this. It has not been an easy process, but £2.5million (out of £4million) has been raised already and the shell of the hospital wing partly built.
As part of my support, we held a fund raising evening here at the Castle and I asked Dr Clarkson (the actor David Robb) to come down and merge real and fictional hospitals and doctors. Dr Paul Millard gave a short talk and amidst laughter offered David (Downton’s Dr Clarkson) his stethoscope. It was fun, with lots of bubbles of champagne and happiness.
The most unforgettable moment, however, was due to a very special man Peter Baker who arrived in a wheelchair. He contributed another six figure sum to the Rosemary Appeal there and then on the night. He told me that, in 1939 (he would have been 11 years old) he had helped his father (an electrician) repair cables, mark and lift floorboards in the Saloon where we had now all gathered 78 years later. I still watch David and Andy, our electricians, lift and repair them today.
Due to people like him, the cast of determined doctors, and of course Rosemary Rooke, the lady who so generously donated the land and after whom the appeal is named, we will get there.
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) statesman and philosopher, wrote “As for Rosemary I let it run all over my garden walls not only because my bees love it but because it is a herb sacred to remembrance and to friendship, when a sprig of it hath a dumb language.”