The garden at Abbot House was planted by Beechgrove Gardens, and is cared for by volunteers, offering visitors a peaceful, meditative space under the shadow of Dunfermline’s great Abbey. The medicinal herb garden at Abbot House is based on a plan of what might have been in the walled garden during the residence of Lady Anne Halkett (1622-1699) in the 17th century.
Also known as an herb garden, or garden of simples, specialised medicinal gardens have been grown since the Middle Ages, although plants were used for medicinal purposes long before that. Many modern drugs are extracted from herbs and other plants, although most modern herb gardens are used for culinary, rather than medicinal, purposes.
Monasteries like that at Dunfermline Abbey were central in the development of gardens and growing in the medieval period in Europe. Monastic gardens included a wide variety of planting, including kitchen gardens, infirmary gardens, cemetery orchards, and vineyards. Using the medicinal herbs they grew, monks treated those suffering inside the monastery and in surrounding communities.
While the most sophisticated gardening during the Middle Ages was done at the monasteries, gardening and the growing of plants for food and medicine was also practised by people within the towns. This tradition was continued after the Reformation, and the legacy of healing using herbs was passed from the monks to laypeople, such as Lady Anne Halkett, who studied �?physic’ (healing) and surgery in order to help the poor.
Born in London in 1622, Lady Anne is remembered as an extraordinary herbalist, surgeon, midwife, Jacobite adventuress, and writer of religious tracts. She was one of Abbot House’s most famous residents, and her renowned skills as an herbalist were known internationally, with patients visiting her from across Europe. Beautiful, well-educated, and brave, Lady Anne had a number of love affairs, despite her remarkable piety. A committed Royalist, she contrived the escape of the Duke of York (later James II)– dressed in women’s clothes! After his accession, he rewarded her with a pension of £100 a year. In the 1650s she began to work as a governess, as well as an herbalist, and in 1656 married her employer, Sir James Halkett. At her death, Lady Anne left more than 20 manuscript volumes on children’s education and religion, and an extensive autobiography, in which she recorded the details of her courtships and marriage. Many of these volumes are in the possession of the National Library of Scotland.