This colourful, contemporary physic garden appeals to visitors of all ages. It is the inspired creation of Professor Elaine Perry, a neuroscientist at Newcastle University who directs research into plant medicines and occupies a tranquil site above the Devil's Water at Dilston in the Tyne Valley.
Herbs and trees with properties for health and healing grow in abundant quantities, clearly labelled with their traditional medicinal uses and up-to-date scientific, clinical evidence.
This is also a sensory garden of great natural beauty, full of intoxicating scents, winding paths and unexpected elements from sculptures to a croquet lawn and giant chess set.
Special features of the garden
Enter this unique garden through its imposing, full-size Tori gate – a Japanese concept linked to the Shinto religion. The gate is a wooden structure, painted in sacred red and black, and acts a spiritual and physical portal into the garden. It encourages reflection and introspection on the part of visitors, compelling the eyes and spirit to move through into the garden itself.
This is a highly unusual two acre garden, divided into two levels. The upper level has a bamboo walk – formed by alternating box shrubs and bamboo clumps - which gives added height and is guarded by serene, stone Buddhas at either end. There is also a small fruit orchard and a croquet Lawn, surrounded by a living library of over 600 species of herbs and cultivars, all clearly labelled with their botanical and common names and medicinal properties. At a lower level are ornamental and sage gardens guarded by a topiarised yew angel.
There is nothing demure about this physic garden – the plants are exuberant both in habit and colour. Elaine Perry, the garden’s owner, retains a relaxed attitude towards the plants calling them ‘gypsy plants’ because of their tendency to move freely round the garden and self seed. Plumes of fennel sway in the breeze and the green globes of angelica flowers shimmer. Majestic spires of stately verbascums stand sentinel over bushes of deep purple sage and glowing golden thyme.
The garden was created 10 years ago on former pastureland on the south bank of the Tyne Valley which is rich in alluvial soils. It is well-drained and sunny – an ideal spot for growing herbs. Dilston Mill House nestles in a sheltered hollow by the side of Devil’s Water and narrow stone steps lead visitors up to the croquet lawn surrounded by herbs, shrubs and trees. The lawn also has varied seating allowing visitors to relax and take in the beautiful views out over the Northumbrian countryside.
Stimulation of the senses
Many plants in the garden are highly aromatic and, on a warm day, the air is laden with fragrance and loud with the buzzing of bees. The chamomile lawn invites visitors to walk on it and release its heavenly smell which acts as a mild sedative and a tranquilliser. Wooden-edged gravel paths intersect the various fragrant herb beds and, tucked away in a tranquil corner, is a small wildlife pond, planted with bog myrtle.
Carefully sited wind chimes hang in the trees and tinkle in the slightest breeze. The Bamboo Walk adds its gentle susurration of rustling leaves to the other multi-sensory qualities of the garden. The scale of planting is generous, providing a kaleidoscope of colour ranging from purples and greens through to silvers and golds – the whole shot through with yellow, red and foamy cream. From the peace and quiet of the terraces, visitors can hear calming sound of the mill water gurgling over the rocky stream bed below.