It’s not everyday that you get to visit a “secret” garden, so when I was invited to Weleda’s medicinal plant gardens in Ilkeston, in England’s county of Derbyshire, I was delighted. This was an opportunity for me to connect with Gaia on a part of her that I had not been acquainted with before, and to also, trace the footsteps of a natural beauty and wellbeing company whose products I have long been a user of and have a huge amount of respect for for their commitment to the wellbeing of the planet, the environment and the people.
Rewind to 2004 when I found myself in a health food store in search of Sweet Almond Oil, recommended by a holistic therapist that I use as a cleanser and moisturiser for my face given that I had highly sensitive skin at the time. What literally leapt off the shelf and landed in my hands like a gift from Gaia was a tester of Weleda’s Almond Soothing Facial Oil. I remember that not only was I impressed with the smoothness of my skin having tried it on the back of my hand but I was also captivated by the packaging itself – a cobalt blue glass bottle distinctively shaped – and as one who has always admired graphics, I was also taken by the logo and the font, which I thought were “pretty neat and funky”. Little if any has changed by way of product quality, design and packaging since then, which evidently has a lot to do with Weleda’s winning and trusted formula.
On a drizzly Saturday morning in June, I was introduced to Weleda UK’s 13-acre garden, a couple of miles up the road from the company’s Derbyshire headquarters, by one of the gardeners and guardians, Al. The Shipley-based garden, known as The Field, is where the gardening team grow a variety of herbs, shrubs, hedges and trees for use in Weleda products. While most of Weleda’s skincare range is produced overseas, all the plantlife and trees grown in the UK are used in the production of medicinal and homeopathic products that Weleda manufacture in Derbyshire.
The gardens are home to a wonderful array of trees and some 300-plus plant species. A tour of the gardens began with a group of birch trees. Potent with magickal properties that include protection and renewal, the leaves from the birch tree are used in Weleda’s Birch Juice given its medicinal use in detoxification. These tall, slender and graceful trees share a place in the Weleda gardens with rows of plant beds, where the likes of Valerian, Feverfew, Echinacea, Milk Thistle, and White Peony grow, among other herbs and plants.
It was a pleasure to get up close and personal with herbs that I was familiar with as decoctions, tinctures and herbal remedies, and to see them in their truest form in their most natural state growing from the earth itself. It goes without saying that the Weleda gardens are managed by a gardening team that put a whole lot of TLC into their work. The team administer traditional farming methods, so they rotate the growing beds annually; they compost so they can feed the soil from their own plant materials; most of their gardening work is done by hand rather than relying on machinery; and they use their own seed bank – so everything is native to the land. The plants and herbs are grown using organic methods and to, what is known as, biodynamic standards.
Biodynamics is an approach to agriculture devised by Austrian philosopher and Weleda co-founder, Rudolph Steiner in 1924. Regenerative and transformative by its very nature, biodynamics seeks to maximise the health and vitality of soils, crops, and livestock. The precursor to organics, all biodynamic farmers and growers practice organic methods of production, are against genetic modification (GM), and share similar certification standards. However, biodynamics differs from organics in that it acknowledges the source of everything, the spiritual, and has its roots in the spiritual. Applied to agriculture this would involve an intuitive awareness of what the earth, flora and fauna requires to regenerate and improve agriculture. That may include working with the Lunar Calendar – being aware of the influences of the Moon, planets and constellations on plant growth.
Essentially biodynamics applies a holistic approach to Nature’s needs, seeing the bigger picture as opposed to the rather minute view that science sees and seeks. While Rudolph Steiner was recognised as a scientist, he always sought the spiritual in all aspects of his life as he understood exactly what it took to be “in harmony with nature and the human being”, Weleda’s mantra.
Weleda was founded in 1921 by Rudolf Steiner, Dutch doctor Ita Wegman and German chemist and pharmacist, Oskar Schmiedel. The three created the first synergistic products designed to reconnect the body with its natural rhythms. The company, which started life in Switzerland, is still based on the spiritual teachings of Anthroposophy, which Rudolph Steiner himself established. Today, with a strong worldwide presence in over 50 countries across five continents, Weleda produces many natural cosmetics and natural pharmaceuticals, still partly produced from medicinal plants in their own gardens.
With Weleda’s background, practices and philosophies in mind, the health and vitality of plantlife at their Derbyshire-based gardens is noticeably visible, as this part of nature appears to be thriving and in its element. As I meandered through the walking tour of the garden, as part of the Weleda Insights Day for bloggers and make-up artists, it was amazing to see so much diversity within the gardens – including a pond, a field where compost sits and grass snakes apparently frequent, and an abundance of healthy bees, a valuable part of the Weleda gardens team since they pollinate the plants.
Naturally the gardens are also home to an apiary, cared for by beekeeper Mick. The bees provide the natural beeswax used in Weleda’s Calendula Weather Protection Cream and Everon Lip Balm, while organic honey is used in Weleda’s Herb and Honey Cough Elixir. What especially stood out next to the apiary was a hanging hive, suspended high up on a pole. A gift to the bees, the Sun Hive is an additional home for the garden’s bee team.
The garden appears to have been landscaped circularly as the complete garden tour was like walking a circle, honouring all the elements. As we walked away from the apiary, we came to the vast meadow, which showcased a beautiful mix of wildflowers. Had we had time and had it not been drizzling, I would have gladly parked my happy booty down somewhere and admired the meadow in glee.
A change in landscape led us to a woodland area, where the likes of hazardous plant, Poison Ivy grows. Fenced off, the poisonous plant, which is used in Weleda’s medicines that relieve arthritic conditions, can only be handled by the team in full hazmat suits.
Further along came the calendula fields, which with their bright orange colour served as a sunny welcome on a day where the sun itself was clouded over. The colour of the calendula flowers were such a beautiful fluorescent orange that my smartphone camera could not do the shade justice. Calendula is used across many of Weleda’s products including natural medicines as well as their popular baby range.
Following on, we were shown smaller crops that included Garlic and the rather majestic Scotch Thistle. En-route to where we began the tour and coming full circle, I couldn’t keep my eyes off a lone tree which stood in the centre of the field keeping a watchful eye on the grounds. It appeared to be a variety of cedar, one of my favourite trees, with an abundance of branches.
As the tour drew to a natural close, it was at this point that I had a heightened awareness of the unconditional love emanating from the natural space, its inhabitants, and the gardeners/guardians, and a knowing that this special tour of the Weleda gardens was indeed for me personally, a spiritual journey and as much about providing a nurturing space in which to honour thy source, as it was about becoming closely acquainted with a company whose ethics and values I’ve always been aligned with.
Gratitude to the Weleda UK team for making this possible
If you would like to visit the Weleda Gardens in Derbyshire, Weleda will be hosting their annual Weleda Gardens Open Day on Sunday 14 July 2019. For more information, visit the Weleda website
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com