“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” wrote William Wordsworth in his poem Tintern Abbey. If this is true, then Tara MacWhirter need never fear betrayal.

In both her life and business, Garden Path Homemade Soap, MacWhirter celebrates nature and earth-friendly practices, promoting them to her customers and to those who take a self-guided tour through her extensive gardens. A former teacher, she is almost evangelical, educating the summer students she employs to follow her example, and conducting workshops during the winter.

MacWhirter, her husband Scott and two sons moved to their five-acre heritage property 14 years ago. Some of the gardens had been planted by the previous owner, MacWhirter’s French teacher Madame Dunsmore, and the couple added others.

“Our gardens are all organic, grown without sprays or chemicals,” MacWhirter explains. ”And our products are made by hand on site, without the use of chemicals, dyes or preservatives. We use renewable plant oils, natural ingredients and recyclable packaging.”

“The gardens are designed to feed the senses,” she says.

Sight –the beauty of the garden; smell – the scent of lavender, roses and other flowers; sound – the birdsong and bee buzzing among the plants; and, of course, touch – the healing power of the herbs and flowers she uses in her more than 80 products.

Before she started her business in 2009, MacWhirter was already an enthusiastic environmentalist. One garden was created especially with the endangered monarch butterfly in mind. In 2012, their property was designated a Monarch Waystation by Monarch Watch. Wild and domestic milkweed, the only plant where monarchs will lay their eggs and the only food monarch caterpillars will eat, are abundant on the property. MacWhirter collects the tiny eggs and nurtures them in her Monarch Nursery and Monarch Motel, where they transition to caterpillars, chrysalises, and finally, butterflies.

Other garden beds provide the herbs and flowers she uses in her products, including a lavender labyrinth, an organic rose arbour and an extensive herb garden filled with medicinal and tasty plants. In addition to caring for monarchs and other butterflies, Scott MacWhirter keeps bees, whose honey is sold in the on-site shop, with the beeswax used in Garden Path Body Butter. Vegetables, berries and an apple orchard help feed the family throughout the year.

“We give nature a place to thrive,” Tara MacWhirter says.

The Monarch Motel where Monarch caterpillars evolve into chrysalises and butterflies. Photo: Greg Byers

Plant a Healing Garden

You can grow some of MacWhirter’s favourite plants, not only for their beauty but for their medicinal properties.

  • Calendula is not only an edible flower, but it helps heal wounds and minimizes scarring.
  • Chamomile, one of the most widely used medicinal plants in the world, is antibacterial, anti- fungal, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. It also makes a great tea.
  • Lavender has soothing properties to help you relax and It’s also a favourite of honey bees.
  • Peppermint not only tastes good but delivers menthol, which has a cooling effect on skin.
  • Zinnias attract ‘good’ insects that help keep destructive insects, such as Japanese beetles, at bay.

To learn more about MacWhirter’s property and Garden Path’s products visit www.gardenpathsoap.com.

Tara MacWhirter in front of one of the many flower beds on her property. Photo: Greg Byers

A honey bee sucks on an alkanet flower in Tara MacWhirter’s garden. Alkanet is used in making Garden Path Lip Balm. Photo: Greg Byers