Physic Garden grand opening!

 By Andrew Legg, Volunteer Gardener at Dr Jenner’s House

After six months in the planning and construction the new Physic Garden has actually arrived!

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Museum Manager Owen Gower says a few words about the volunteer project

A small group of volunteers were brought together to implement the project in 2015. Initially the herb beds were going to be dug into the existing lawn but after a few trial holes were excavated it became obvious that this would not be possible.

Oak sleepers were sourced and created the skeleton of the four raised beds. Twenty tonnes of topsoil was imported and the beds filled. Andrew, Vicki and Paul, with support and help from other volunteers including a group from the world of commerce, undertook this task and with Vicki researching and sourcing the herbs the project moved forward. The four beds reflect the types of ailment that Dr Jenner may have been required to treat: “Digestion”, “Coughs and Colds”, “Headaches and Restoratives” and “Wounds and Skin”.

After planting a wide selection of young plants, a mulch of four tonnes of mushroom compost was spread over the surface to retain moisture and we declared the Physic Garden ready for opening.


Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall and Councillor Liz Ashton

Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall, the author and garden designer, who has had an interest in the garden at Dr Jenner’s House for some years, very kindly agreed to formally open the garden. In early June, on a warm sunny day in the presence of staff and volunteers from Dr Jenner’s House, local councillors, business owners, fellow heritage workers and visitors, the garden was formally declared open!


Staff and volunteers from the Holst Birthplace Museum joined our celebrations

The event was made extra special as it fell during our National Volunteers’ Week celebrations. The volunteer and staff team at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham were invited to come along for the launch and were treated to a visit to the museum (including an exclusive tour of the eighteenth-century attics). Tea and cake followed, accompanied by the delightful sounds of Class Act, a local jazz quartet, who very generously offered to perform at the launch free of charge.

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Class Act provided the music

We hope that visitors to Dr Jenner’s House will benefit from this additional experience and will learn and understand how medicine was practiced in the time of Dr Jenner.


A Country Doctor’s Physic Garden

Vicki Wright, one of our expert team of garden volunteers looks into the Physic Garden in more depth ahead of its official launch on Monday 6th June.

Edward Jenner had a great interest in horticulture and plants. In his garden at The Chantry he planted a wide variety of medicinal herbs. Jenner lived during a period when the fields of science and medicine were questioning tradition and replacing the old ways with a more modern outlook.

Chamomile Chamomile: used to treat skin irritations

Last year, the garden volunteers at Dr Jenner’s House were asked to come up with a plan for a physic garden. Jenner was, for most his working life, a country doctor and we wanted to represent this in the garden.  Rather than a full-blown physic garden such as those found at Chelsea or Cowbridge, we felt it would be more in keeping with the setting to have a country doctor’s herb garden. The medicinal plants and herbs planted here were used at the time and may have been used in Jenner’s medical practice and about the house, in cooking for example.

Chives FlowerChives: used to aid digestion

The garden is based on the idea of treating common ailments. Rather than following the four humours (an idea that was falling out of favour by Jenner’s time in the eighteenth century), we looked instead at dividing the garden into four areas each one dealing with a common set of complaints that a country doctor would be called on to treat.

Ladys MantleLady’s Mantle: used to treat infected wounds

The four areas are: Wounds & Skin, Digestion, Headaches & Restoratives and Coughs & Colds. Some of the herbs such as those in the Digestion bed, like Sage or Parsley, are well known to us. However, others such as Sweet Woodruff in the Wounds & Skin bed, have been replaced by more effective treatments.


Marjoram: used for digestive upsets

The planting took place over the month of May and the weather was kind to us. After planting, we added a mulch to conserve water and reduce any weeds popping up.

WP_20160513_14_01_21_ProVicki and Andrew begin the planting of the beds

We planned the beds to show them at their best advantage with the taller plants in the centre of the beds and smaller ones towards the edges, creating a tiered effect. In time we hope to add benches to the centre of the garden to allow a contemplative space surrounded by the herbs.

WP_20160603_13_22_01_ProThe beds are complete!

The Physic Garden at Dr Jenner’s House officially opens on Monday 6th June. Come and have a look!

Twitter: @DrJennersHouse

Facebook: /DrJennersHouse


If you would like to be involved in or donate to the project, please contact Katharine Majer on or call 01453810631.


How many bags of topsoil does it take to fill a Physic Garden?

It is fantastic to see the Physic Garden begin to really take shape as we near the end of the building part of the project. Over the past month, the team have completed the construction of the raised wooden beds and last week saw the delivery of the first batch of topsoil to fill them in. 10 tonnes of the stuff was delivered and this filled two of the beds…another load is due this week to complete the job. 


Topsoil delivery first thing on Thursday morning

We were joined by some enthusiastic locals who volunteered for the day to help us reach our goal of completing the project by June. They helped make quick work of the task and powered on by the beautiful weather, we were even able to sneak in a quick tea and cake break before the end of the session! 



We will pick up the work on Thursday, when we will be joined by some more willing volunteers and we should have all four beds completed by the end of the day. Why not pop down on Sunday to see the progress for yourselves? The museum and garden are open from 12pm.

Once the construction work is done and dusted, the team need to turn their attention to the interpretation of the Physic Garden and how they can help visitors understand what the garden is for and how the project came about. Over the coming weeks they will be using the planting plan they devised way back at the end of last year to help plot where all of the dozens of plants we have purchased will live.  

skin and wounds

Planting plan for the skin and wounds bed

Each bed will represent a different part of the body / ailments: headaches and restoratives, digestive system, skin and wounds and coughs and colds. All the plants in each bed were used medicinally during Edward Jenner’s time to cure ailments associated with that area. For example, marjoram was used to treat digestive complaints while chamomile helped sooth irritated skin. We will look at the medicinal properties of some of the plants in the Physic Garden in more detail in a later post.

For now, there is still much work to do but the end is definitely in sight! A huge thank you to the garden volunteer team and all of our other one-off volunteers who have helped us get to this point – you are stars!

We will keep you updated on our progress over the coming weeks here on this blog and on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Twitter: @DrJennersHouse

Facebook: /DrJennersHouse


If you would like to be involved in or donate to the project, please contact Katharine Majer on or call 01453810631.



Breaking Ground

After months of planning and designing, ordering equipment and recruiting volunteers, the Physic Garden project has finally sprung into life!

This volunteer-led project aims to introduce traditional medicinal plants to the old kitchen garden at Dr Jenner’s House. It is likely that Edward Jenner would have used herbs and other plants known for their healing properties in his practice as an eighteenth-century country doctor. The design of the garden is based around the four humours and each bed represents a different area of the body.

Once the garden had been set out (see the film here), the team were keen to get started with the physical work. In the original plans for the project, the plants beds were to be dug down into the ground, with the borders spilling out onto the pathways. However, the team quickly needed to rethink this as it became apparent that not very far below the surface, the ground was full of stones and large bricks. Without hiring expensive equipment, it would be almost impossible to remove the turf and dig down into the ground.

Work was halted as we had to ensure we were not disturbing any important archaeology. Paul, one of our garden team, dug a series of test pits around the area, which proved there was nothing more interesting than bits of rubble at this superficial level.

The solution to the problem was to change the planned works to include the building of raised plant beds, using large oak sleepers as the framework. A few inches of topsoil could then just sit atop the turf of the current lawn, enough depth for the plants to thrive in.

Andrew got to work sourcing the oak sleepers, utilising his years of connections in the landscape gardening business; Vicki, who is a horticultural specialist, got on with the large task of sourcing plants to go into each bed; Paul and Derek, trustee and gardening enthusiast, were ready to get digging!

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photo 3 (006)On a cloudy day in early March, Andrew and Paul oversaw the delivery of a truckload of oak sleepers.

The next job was to dig small trenches for the sleepers to rest in. Paul and Dan, one of our newer recruits, were happy to oblige and did this is record time! Andrew and Derek meanwhile, began the difficult and time-consuming task of cutting the sleepers, laying them and pegging them together. The garden is definitely starting to take shape!

photo 1 (00A) photo 3 (00A)

Keep an eye out on the blog and on Facebook and Twitter for our progress as the Physic Garden project continues.

If you would like to be involved in or donate to the project, please contact Katharine Majer on or call 01453810631.

Twitter: @DrJennersHouse

Facebook: /DrJennersHouse



Winter closure?

The garden in winterOne of the more common misconceptions about museum work is that once we close our doors to visitors for the winter the staff themselves also go into hibernation, waiting to emerge once more come the new visitor season. Or, at least, that we’re not quite so busy between October and April. Nothing could be further from the truth, however! We use the winter to plan all of our events and marketing for the next year, to deep clean the display rooms and cases, to carry out research, and to catch up on all of those little jobs which have slipped through the net during the open season. We also continue to welcome groups and schools, and to organise events.

This year will be even busier as not only do we hope to make real progress on the Physic Garden (starting to dig in December with a view to planting in March and April), we’re also getting ready to reopen Dr Jenner’s potting shed with a new exhibition about his experimentation with plants.

So it’s rather a garden-themed winter ahead of us and to start it off we’re very pleased to welcome Dr Nicholas Wray of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden to talk about another great experimenter, Charles Darwin. In Voyages of the Beagle, Nick will explore the horticultural discoveries of Darwin’s epic journey and the lifetime of experiments that it inspired. The talk is on Wednesday 18 November at 7:30pm and tickets cost £5. For more information, please see the poster below or contact the museum on 01453 810631 or

Voyages of the Beagle

The Physic Garden

We’re about to embark on an ambitious project to bring medicinal and heritage plants back to Edward Jenner’s garden. Over the coming months we hope to start work creating a Physic Garden on the site of Jenner’s kitchen garden. This has only been made possible with the support of public funding from the Arts Council England Museum Resilience Fund, a grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, and a growing team of green fingered volunteers.

On this website you can follow our progress, find out more about medicinal plants, and hear from those involved in the project.

Like to get involved? Find out more here.