Green-fingered Janet prepares to hang up her gardening gloves

Growing rare herbs and plants is an all-consuming passion for Janet Elliott and a quick tour of her beautiful home and garden is a delight to the senses, with fragrant stems in every corner.

For many years she has grown one of the most extensive ranges of herbs in the UK, supplying specimens to the Queen's Balmoral estate in Scotland, The Eden Project in Cornwall and to ethnobotanist and presenter James Wong, who presents the series Grow Your Own Drugs.

Her collection includes rarities such as curry leaf trees (murraya koenigii), which is often used in Indian cuisine, patchouli (pogostemon cablin), which can be used in cosmetics, and stevia rebaudiana, which is grown for its sweet leaves and is a sugar substitute.

As well as selling at local farmers' markets and plant fairs, Mrs Elliott, from Barsham, near Beccles, has sent plants all over the UK and Europe. She has also sent specimens to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in South Africa and Cambridge University Botanic Garden.

Closer to home she has supplied most of the herbs for the herb garden at Norwich Cathedral.


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For several years Mrs Elliott grew rare plectranthus plants for medical research at the School of Pharmacy, University of London.

'They are looking for new antibiotics and new cures for malaria and a professor there would ring me and ask for 40 of one and 40 of another,' she said. 'I would grow them up and send them on.'

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Now at the age of 77, Mrs Elliott has decided to semi-retire.

There is a closing down sale at her nursery, Old Hall Plants, with many plants half price.

Mrs Elliott will still keep the more unusual varieties and some houseplants for sale at the house and for mail orders.

'I have always had a garden and been interested in plants,' she said. 'I used to grow about 600 herbs, but I have cut down.'

Mrs Elliott confessed that she would find it difficult to put down her secateurs as propagating plants has become a labour of love.

'I am going to find it very difficult to stop,' she said, adding that it was vitally important that knowledge about rare herbs and plants is not lost. We must not lose the knowledge,' she said. 'When they are pulling down the rainforests it is dreadful because once they have gone they have gone for good.

'We really need to get young people interested. There are millions of plants out there that are not yet discovered and they could have so many uses.'

Mrs Elliott is married to Maurice and they have seven children and 20 grandchildren.

She said it had been interesting working with experts including the author Deni Bown, Diana Miller from the Royal Horticultural Society, Ernst van Jaarsveld at Kirstenbosch and James Wong. Mrs Elliott said the plant sale would be on for the next month and any remaining plants would go to Clinks Care Farm at Toft Monks, which offers people, including those with mental health problems, the chance to use the farm environment to aid their recovery by improving confidence, self-esteem and motivation.

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