Monday, 21 June 2010

A medicinal garden in Bloomsbury

We have created a medicinal garden in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury. This lovely residential square is not open to the public except on London Open Garden Squares weekend, which this year was 12-13 June.

On Sunday 13 June, we held an event devoted to rhubarb - Fools 4 Rhubarb - at which speakers from UCL included Professor Chris Lawrence who explored the rhubarb in David Livingstone's medicine chest (Livingstone's Rowser), Dr Guy Attewell on rhubarb in the Indo-Muslim healing traditions, and Dr Vivienne Lo on rhubarb in China. Dr Anne Stobart from Middlesex University, who is also a consultant medical herbalist, gave an insight into the medicinal use of rhubarb in the 17th century. Although rhubarb has been taken for centuries as a laxative, it has also been used as an ingredient in remedies to treat rickets in children, kidney complaints, ulcers in the womb, and to soothe fevers. Rhubarb root is generally used in medicines rather than the stems which are used in cooking.
My talk was entitled 'Rhubarb Growers in the Land of Fire'. The Land of Fire is of course Tierra del Fuego, where Abby Goodall and her family grow rhubarb varieties brought from England by her great grandfather, Thomas Bridges, who went to Tierra del Fuego in 1863 as a missionary, and built a farm, Estancia Harberton in the Beagle Channel, which is now the oldest farm in Argentina. Abby grows 200 kilos of rhubarb a year and has hundreds of rhubarb recipes! We had planned to skype Abby during the event but the connection was very bad and we had to abandon it, much to our disappointment.

After the fascinating talks at Goodenough College and a superb lunch of chicken and rhubarb tagine (an historic Persian recipe), rhubarb sorbet, rhubard crumble and custard, rhubarb juice, rhubarb mead and other culinary delights, we moved to Mecklenburgh Square where Ann Stobart gave us a lesson in healing herbs around the physic garden. There are two components to the garden - a herb spiral (bottom photo), and a herbaceous herb border (top photo). The herb spiral is landscaped from Welsh slate, skilfully constructed by slate workers from North Wales. Vivienne Lo worked with Mecklenburgh Square gardeners to plant and nurture the medicinal herbs which include feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), tansy (Chrysanthemum vulgare), opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), borage (Borago officinalis), camomile (Chamomilla nobilis), and of course a number of varieies of rhubarb. Advice and help in planning and establishing our garden was given by Chelsea Physic Garden and the Royal College of Physicians, which has a wonderful medicinal garden curated by the garden fellow, Dr Henry Oakeley.
The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, after which the garden is named (centre photo), has also supported this venture.
A lovely day ended with afternoon tea in the garden - scones and rhubarb jam with cream, rhubarb muffins, rhubarb meringues, washed down with rhubarb tea. Love my rhubarb but am currently rhubarbed-out.