Honouring Margaret Roberts

Emile Shreve, Somerset West

Like myself, Margaret Roberts believed in fairies.

When I moved to Somerset West two decades ago, her A to Z of Herbs was my first gardening and natural health inspiration.

Some might remember her morning television herb talks. She is most famous for her dozens of books on herbs for every aspect of life, beauty products, tissue salts, pot pourri making, her own botanical drawings. I have a little book called Herbs for Animals – a treasure used each time a pet looks off-colour.

A trained physiotherapist, she received a Laureate award from the University of Pretoria in 2006 for her ground-breaking work in health and wellness.

Over the years I have received a few notes written in her unique skipping-rope scrawl, a nun’s prayer, a teeny fairy and a letter from her, now treasured more than ever. She so impressed me through articles in
SA Gardening/SA Garden – she was a fixture in both magazines – that I often wrote to her.

Many years back I visited the Margaret Roberts Herbal Centre in De Wildt on the way to Brits.

This rambling estate was a wonderful expression of her organic herbal philosophy where she freely gave plants to sangomas and advice to all who asked for it.

Apart from the Centre’s delicious vegetarian fare (her daughter Sandy’s métier), we discovered a sweet chapel, a gift shop, a potager garden and a very reasonably priced nursery. I was impressed by the square steel cages she had specially built around some of her fruiting trees to keep them monkey-free.

We had never actually met until I bumped into her during a visit to the Centre’s gift shop. She was welcoming, naturally charming and interested in what I had chosen.

When I said my name she immediately thanked me for a Christmas tree-ornament I had made and sent to her in the early days of our correspondence. I had forgotten about it.

As a naturalist and striving “earth saver” I constantly refer to Margaret’s inspiring books.

She was humble, a marvel, an unsung hero. She died too soon.

My condolences to all who mourn her passing.

See book review on page 16