Tucked away in sleepy Shipley is the key to the success of one of Ilkeston’s most lauded companies, Weleda.
You wouldn’t know it was there, but there’s a kind of secret garden, just off The Field, where much of the herbs, flowers and other natural ingredients it uses for its products are grown.
As head gardener Michael Bate, now retired, took the ‘Tiser around the 15 acres of beautiful plants of all shapes and sizes, the care and attention – and above all expert knowledge – that the small team who work there possess became abundantly clear.
Weird and wonderful names such as pheasant’s eye, rupture wort and butcher’s broom grow there, as well as more commonly known plants such as St John’s wort, Scotch thistle and rows of dazzling orange calendula.
Each plant, Michael explained, has specific qualities which he said can help all kinds of ailments from rheumatism to coughs and colds to colic in babies – and countless more.
From the garden they take the two mile trip down the hill to the Weleda factory in Heanor Road where they are made into all kinds of oils, creams, bath soaks and more.
And from there they are sold all over the world including to its scores of celebrity fans, including Simon Cowell, Adele, Gwyneth Paltrow and Elle Macpherson.
“We’re the only company in the world that makes purely natural cosmetics,” said Michael
“And it’s 100 per cent natural - not based on natural, it’s all natural.”
It all started when famous Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner came to Britain in the early twentieth century.
He strived to find a link between science and mysticism and set up the factory in 1921, based around these principles on the site of one of his famous Steiner schools, Michael House, which later moved to The Field.
Michael, who worked on the garden for 30 years, explained how his more esoteric principles are still adhered to – for example planting certain crops when the moon is in specific constellations – alongside natural gardening methods.
“Rudolf Steiner used the first organic system of horticulture, using compost and avoiding the use of synthetic fertiliser,” he explained.
How plants growing beside each other affect their growth, he added.
When ingredients are needed from outside the herb garden, they are used only from biodynamic farms – where plants, animals and people live as close as possible to how they would be in their natural environment. One is in Sutton Bonington, Nottinghamshire, said Michael.
Whether you buy in to the spiritual side of the company or not, what can’t be denied is that Weleda does a roaring trade across not just the UK but the globe – a true success story for business in Ilkeston.
And much of that is down to the vast knowledge of its staff, like Michael.
Look out for the company’s Join The Dots events, where guests are taken around the garden for a day and can have a go at making tinctures inside the Heanor Road factory.