The National Herb Centre nestles into a hillside in the south of Warwickshire, England, between Southam, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwick and Banbury. It’s one of those places we didn’t set out to visit, but are mightily glad we did. So I’m sharing this vibrant, riotously verdant and wildlife-friendly spot with you. It’s somewhere to easily while away much of the day, and a great tribute to what happens when someone creates a place with passion and vision. You don’t have to be a gardener to love and enjoy all it has to offer.
Finding The National Herb Centre in Warwickshire
I mentioned that we hadn’t intended to go there. Our new car was strangely lacking a satnav, so I’d taken to wrestling with our large A3 map book in my role as navigator while exploring the Oxfordshire and Warwickshire borders. We’d not long left Banbury, when my finger spotted a little red icon for the National Herb Centre, near Warmington in Warwickshire. You’ll spot the turning near the top of the hill on the B4100. You’ll also spot a roadside sign offering archery, indicating that this is way more than a garden centre.
What’s On Offer At The National Herb Centre
The National Herb Centre’s a fairly recent creation (1997), established by Peter Turner to enable everyone to see, enjoy and learn about herbs. It was previously a research centre, and is now a place where you can explore, shop, dine, and enjoy experiences such as the aforementioned archery, or learning about the rain forest.
My first impression as we took the long drive to the centre was just how much there is to see here. Once we’d parked and wandered through the Bistro to the courtyard, it became apparent that this was the kind of place where you could lose yourself happily for hours. There are demonstration gardens, a long walk to be had, hilltop views, tables to enjoy the beautiful weather with a glass of something cold, and the Bistro for something delicious to fortify you for browsing the plants and other items for sale.
The Demonstration Gardens
These are set out at the top of the path leading down the hill. It’s a bit like a tiny version of the Chelsea Flower Show gardens, with each garden having a distinct form and very individual planting. I can’t begin to convey how lovely this was on a warm summer day, the air full of birdsong, butterflies on the wing and the air alive with the scent of the planting.
At this point I should confess that I am no horticulturalist. Cacti I tended have expired through lack of water, and our garden plants flinch as I walk by. Yet this place was so very beautiful that I was fascinated at the designs and plant choices in each of the demonstration gardens, so much so that I dreamed of a garden in which I could take pride. Even if you’re not a gardener, this place has something to make your soul and your senses happy.
“Our nature trail winds down through the valley amongst fields of herbs, by ponds and through woodland with the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife in its natural habitat.
We have six specially designed herb gardens which demonstrate the versatility of planting herbs in your garden, and can inspire your own use of herbs.”
From The National Herb Centre’s website
The Garden Walk And Nature Trail
There are plenty of places to meander around the grounds. If you do this, keep an eye out for wildlife. We spent time watching some rather happy squirrels under the trees, and more varieties of butterflies in one place than I’ve seen for decades. There was much tweeting in the air, so if you’re at all interested in nature, bring your favourite resources to look up everything you’ve seen.
There is an air of purposeful busyness about the team at work here. It was good to see and hear people clearly happy in their work, both in the grounds and in the Bistro. There seemed to be plenty of returning visitors, and we could understand why people would want to come back to explore.
Plant Sale and Shopping
Even for someone like me who doesn’t do much plant shopping, I could see what a brilliant place this is to stock your borders. All around us, people were filling wheeled carts with plants in beautiful condition. There were absolute bargains to be had too, from glorious hydrangeas to family apple trees well laden with fruit. Inside the buildings surrounding the courtyard you could treat yourself to anything from home furnishings to supplies for your pets and every type of garden ornament known to humankind.
This is the first building you see on leaving the car park. There are seats on two levels here, plus plenty of tables outside to enjoy the sunshine and the view. There’s a menu covering all sorts of homemade snacks and lunches, plus some rather fine cakes, also homemade. Everything was sensibly priced. I was also delighted to see that the menu was clearly marked for anyone with food allergies. There’s way more choice than is normally the case for someone gluten free like me.
Who Would Enjoy Visiting?
We saw family groups, couples and people of all ages enjoying what the Centre has to offer. Small children were entranced by the range of things that glittered, spun and swirled in the garden ornaments. There were earnest discussions among plant lovers about which varieties to add to their already-loaded plant trollies. Friends were chatting over coffees in the sun. In short, I think you’d have to try really hard not to enjoy a visit.
What’s Near The National Herb Centre?
If you’re making a day or more of this, then you might want to have some other options in your back pocket for any time you have remaining. You’re really close to many of the attractions of Warwickshire, including Compton Verney, Warwick Castle and Royal Leamington Spa. Head to Oxfordshire, and you’re not far from Banbury, Oxford and even the delights of the Vale of White Horse. So why not make a weekend of it?
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