As I walked around the Weleda Gardens with Head Gardener Claire Hatterley, you can’t help but realise that nature is the teacher here.
I was lucky enough to be shown around one of Weleda UK’s biodynamic gardens ‘The Field’ by Head Gardener, Claire Hattersley. Claire has tended these 13 hectares of land for over 20 years. Not only did she tour me around the meadows and crops she describes more as a ‘nature reserve’ than a garden, she also invited me to learn about biodynamic agriculture first hand – helping the team plant a new field of Calendula.
I chatted Claire about how she grew a nature reserve, in the very meadow it all started.
Growing a nature reserve
“This meadow was actually grown 15 years ago by myself and a team. We trod the land with our boots, not with mechanical rollers.”
“Machinery didn’t do it, people did it.”
“And this become the seeding meadow for all the other meadows is on the site. And now our local wildlife trust is taking our seeds spreading them on to their nature reserves so this was the starting point.”
“This was also a lesson about working with the type of land you’ve got. This was marsh land, it’s always got moisture in it. So why drain it if you just let it be? If you allow the conditions to develop then the wildlife comes in.”
“We never used to have orchids but now we have orchids – and that’s like the seal of approval really.”
“This land is a really good place for people. It’s really supportive of people – a real people place.”
“For people to come and learn, about Weleda but we can do so much more. We can teach about biodynamics, about herbal use, we can show people how to reconnect with nature, there is so much that we can do with this piece of land.”
“Our beekeeper is already teaching children and today we had older school children coming to learn about making compost. It’s already happening in small ways and it would be nice if we can continue to develop that aspect as a growing space.”
“It is like a nature reserve, we are lucky that we can naturalized herbs here so that they can grow how they choose to grow. This creates a better quality than when we are cultivating asking them to do what we want them to do.”
Why was it so important for you to be a gardener?
“It’s in my blood, my father was, and still is a keen gardener. My grandfather was a keen gardener. The garden is where I feel most myself.”
“Weleda UK is prepared to look after 13 hectares of land and to safeguard it. It’s not just about production it’s so much more than that and I really respect that it’s about caring for the land, that’s Weleda’s interest.”
What makes you happy working in your day to day life at Weleda UK?
“There are two things – that I’m growing what ultimately helps people get better. But for me having worked here for so long its seeing the effect of this place has on people.”
“I like to say that I grow my gardeners. Felicity, one of my gardeners really wants to be a herbologist, so we are supporting her with that.
And Al loves the whole biodynamics thing.
And these things developed from when they started. They didn’t come here knowing these things, they have grown and engaged with it and that’s what makes this place such a wonderful place to grow – it’s a self-development place. And I really think that nature is the teacher.”
What can we learn from nature, from the bees?
“Bees work for the greater good. When people learn about bees they learn what a democracy it really is.”
“We really learn about cooperation. They make their decisions on a shared agreement and they communicate – and then we think they’re just bees, but they are amazing! Their cooperation, their way of looking after the greater good, their willingness to play their part in the story is what we can learn from bees.”
How is biodynamic farming growing?
“The biodynamic movement is growing too. It’s more possible to find local groups where you can make the preparations and learn how to use them. It’s not something to be wary of, it’s not complicated, it’s just slightly different. We do some interesting things on the face of it sound unusual. The horn manure is a classic example – if you’re not careful it sounds completely bonkers but that’s because we’re so fixed in our material thinking. It limits what we can imagine.”
How can nature be a role model for us as humans?
“Inter-connectedness. You can’t have a healthy tree growing on its own. It needs communication with other trees and that generally happens in the soil.”
“In terms of this place, nature teaches you to avoid that need jerk reaction. Nature teaches you that if you’re paying attention and you are observant it will show your its way and come back into balance.”
What is your life philosophy?
“I know there is more to life than the material picture that we are all given and taught as children. Anthroposophy, which is Steiner’s philosophy gives us clues and pathways into knowing that rather knowing it as we have been in the past. I think it’s time that we all reconnected with our souls and spirits. And in a garden, you can do that.”
Nature is able to teach us the truth, that there is no matter without spirit. And no spirit without matter.
I could have chatted with Claire in that meadow for hours, but it was time to get to work planting the Calendula crops
It was so mediative to plant the baby Calendula – the medicinal plant used in Weleda’s baby care range and pharmaceutical natural medicines. I loved shifting my focus from my head to my hands and we dug tiny little homes for these news guys to live.
Weleda is onto the world’s largest users of natural and organic materials in the world of cosmetics, purchasing over 4,700 tonnes from fair trade farming partners and suppliers last year alone.
How I connected with my soul and my spirit whilst planting the Calendula plants
As I planted the tiny Calendula plants into the clay life soil I grew a little with them.
I couldn’t help but send them on their way with gentle well wishes. You might think I was crazy but I mentally whispered to them letting them know that the ground they were growing in was rockier, tougher and harder to make their way through then normal…it hadn’t been a good winter here for the soil. But I sent little messages as I tucked them into the soil that I knew that they could do it. That they were strong and that we were all rooting for them.
I felt like I could connect with them, empathize with them because a few years ago, my soil was rocky and hard to get through too.
The life I was living two years ago would have made my being here in this moment, impossible. But having the right people urging you along, with the best of intentions, you can get through anything and become stronger, healthier and better than ever.
With each plant, I couldn’t also help but think how we need to speak with kindness to those around us and let them know what we are rooting for them too. I have also learnt how we need to speak to another person like this too – ourselves.
How has nature helped you grow?