Friday, June 5, 2020

Growing for Wellbeing

An introduction to the garden from our historic herb vlogs by Ian Downes, Programme and Events Officer

My day job involves organising the major events at Pontefract Castle, alongside the programme of talks and lectures, informal learning activities, and helping to interpret the ruins of our two castle sites.

I like to spend my spare time in my garden, which is about a quarter of an acre, filled with nearly 400 herbs and useful plants. It has everything from apples, bananas, tomatoes and blueberries, to chives and rue.  This keeps me busy - weeding, keeping things tidy and of course the addictive bit, finding new plants!

The herb garden

All this work is what keeps me physically and mentally healthy.  Just last weekend I dug 16 holes for courgette, pumpkin squash and tromboncino plants; cut down a stump from an old hedge we are taking down; and potted up 50 baby plants I had grown from seed.  In the heat this was quite an achievement, and all that’s before you eat anything from the garden.

The veg garden

Young plants growing in the greenhouse

Mentally, it gives me inconsequential things to worry about, pleasant things to think about, and a nice environment to just sit down quietly, something that has become all the more important during lockdown.  

Dragonfly spotted in the garden

The garden also sits nicely alongside my day job.  As an archaeologist, it’s often interesting to watch out for the things I am digging up.  Over the three years we have lived here, we have found numerous pieces of dressed stone, fragments of medieval pottery and Victorian coins. Only this weekend I found a perfume bottle with a Bakelite lid and a shard of 16th to 17th century pottery! 

16th-17th century pottery shard

The links go deeper than that though. Many of the herbs have traditional uses, particularly the medicinal ones, and some date back to Roman times. A few would have been grown in the herb gardens in and around Pontefract. One that Pontefract is famous for and grows really well in our garden? Liquorice!

Liquorice growing in the garden


Recently that has meant I have used the time in lockdown to record a series of vlogs about the uses of herbs in the past, with the herb garden as the studio. We are looking at herbs that might have been used in Pontefract Castle.  To give you an idea of what the garden is like, here is a quick tour.

For more from Ian's garden, check out the Medieval Herbs playlist on our YouTube channel.

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