The 18th century walled garden at Lydiard Park is the perfect setting for Swindon's Youth Theatre summer production - Johanna's Miracle Garden. This is the story of Lady Johanna's challenge to the greatest medical and philosophical minds of the day, to find the ultimate recipe to complete her book of cures for all ills.
Lady Johanna St John and her husband Sir Walter spent most of the year at their Battersea home, convenient for Westminster where Sir Walter represented Wiltshire in 1656, 1659, 1679, 1681, 1690 and Wootton Bassett in 1661. His political career was pretty lack lustre and apparently he made no speeches and served on just 34 committees, although to his credit he did turn up regularly. Walter and Johanna were described as being 'eminent for owning and practising religion' and the impression is that they were quite a serious couple.
During their absence the Lydiard estate came under the watchful eye of the couple's steward Thomas Hardyman with whom Lady Johanna was in constant correspondence. Letters survive between the two exchanging news and gossip, housekeeping tasks and of course Lady Johanna's garden, which stood to the south east of the old mansion house. The old walled and formal gardens were swept away when her grandson John landscaped the parkland in the 18th century.
Lady Johanna's 1680 Booke, a collection of pills and potions, includes recipes for everything from cosmetics and perfumes to cures for a persistent cough and rickets. Left in Lady Johanna's will to her daughter Anne Cholmondeley the book is now held by the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine, and can be viewed on line.
Written by Mike Akers, directed by Chris Gardner and designed by Sue Condie, Johanna's Miracle Garden has a cast of geeky scientists pitched against wizards and witches who battle it out to win Lady Jo's challenge - with astonishing results! The open air theatre production takes place across the weekend of August 10 -12 with performances at 1pm and 4pm. For more information visit www.wegottickets.com/swindonartscentre or telephone the box office at Swindon Arts Centre on 01793 614837.
This modern production heralds a series of forthcoming events to celebrate the life and work of Lady Johanna St John. Visit the website on www.lydiardpark.org.uk for more details.