Speaking of Biodynamics

Biodynamics is a system of agriculture and horticulture that is gradually becoming better known. Huw Morgan talks to Claire Hattersley, a member of the team at Weleda, in Derbyshire, who use biodynamically grown ingredients in the making of their natural medicines and body care products.

How did you come to be a gardener at Weleda?

Having a Fine Art degree, my first career was in museum exhibitions and display, but gardening became a passionate hobby. I had just completed an RHS Horticulture Course when I saw an advertisement for a gardener at Weleda, and 12 years later, I’m now the garden team leader. Initially it was a huge culture change, but I’ve no regrets. I don’t know who found who, but I guess biodynamics found me!

So what exactly is biodynamic gardening?

In the 1920s, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner responded to farmers’ concerns about the reduced health and vitality of their crops and animals. His subsequent lectures became the basis of the biodynamic movement.

As with organic growing, we use no artificial fertilisers or chemicals and look primarily to maintaining a healthy soil. But biodynamics also takes a wider perspective, looking beyond the Earth to the cosmic influences on growth that come from the planets and stars. We strive to work with and understand these living forces that permeate all life on Earth and aim to both heal and revitalise our land.

Why does the company prefer to use biodynamically grown ingredients?

Weleda requires the best quality medicinal herbs for its natural medicines and bodycare products. Biodynamics delivers this by working with the natural rhythms of the moon and the planets in the herbs’ cultivation. We use biodynamic sprays and preparations on our land and in our compost, which ensures a healthy and richly diverse environment for the medicinal plants. We have minimal mechanisation, ensuring there is a very personal relationship with our land and plants. Our land is Demeter certified, which is the worldwide standard for biodynamic certification.

Do you have a favourite plant?

The ones that help to make our compost so fantastic! Namely nettle, chamomile, dandelion, yarrow and valerian – weeds to many, but to a biodynamic gardener, these are not only medicinal plants for people, they heal the Earth as well.

Another favourite plant is calendula. It’s used throughout the Weleda Babycare range, which my son Rowan was raised on! Calendula is a prolifically flowering annual, with antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties plus the flowers are a fabulous orange colour. We grow a whole field full every year and it looks absolutely stunning!

What does the future hold?

Our 15 acre site is gradually becoming more of a nature reserve, with meadows, woodlands and ponds making different natural habitats, so there’s still plenty of development work to do there.

Biodynamics is now on the margins where organics used to be 20 years ago – in another 10 years time, I’m sure we’ll see much more biodynamically grown produce available in the shops.

Personally, I am very fulfilled working at Weleda, playing my part in making natural medicines and being a custodian of a very special piece of land, plus my son is currently at the Steiner School next door. I feel extremely lucky to be working in a positive and practical way with the ideas that offer sound solutions for a more sustainable future.