This blog in part chronicles the adventures of building and maintaining a large herb garden, with rotating teams of intrepid apprentices. As a medicine garden, it’s meant to provide healing in the form of beauty, relationship with plants, soil, insects and each other, and in the form of herbal preparations that we’ll make and share with our community. Ancient gardens of this nature were built to educate the day’s physicians–so were called physic gardens. We named our particular garden Patera, after a bowl used to hold medicine in ancient Greece. The patera was especially associated with Hygeia, the goddess of preventive medicine and Asclepius’ daughter. In most depictions, she offers her medicine to a snake who represents humankind. The snake must help itself to the medicine, just as we humans must also care for ourselves by using the good medicines of rest, fresh air, whole food, and the plants that are all around us. We offer this garden as a container for healing and learning, like the physic gardens, but for the education and delight of all.
We’re working together on a ridge in the Green Mountains of Central Vermont, in zone 4b. We began with the architecture of an old garden–some beds in tact, others waiting for strong backs and compost. We were at first a gathering of 10: 2 seasoned gardener/herbalist/teachers, and 8-12 apprentices to the garden, with various levels of experience. Our ongoing goal is to create a teaching and learning lab where we can learn from the plants themselves. We’re growing European herbs, Asian medicinals and native plants, experimenting with inter-planting according to their uses and energetic qualities in both Western and Asian herbal traditions. Since one of us is an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist and others of us are Western herbalists, we are excited to have fruitful conversations about cross-system translation.
The garden continues to be supported by numerous individuals, businesses, and organizations, through contributions of funds, seeds and plants. Significant support originally came from: Horizon Herb Seeds (www.horizonherbseeds.com), Goddard College Faculty Development Fund (www.goddard.edu), and Vermont Center from Integrative Herbalism (VCIH; www.vtherbcenter.org). Each year the apprentices are enrolled in a VCIH program called Herbs from the Ground Up, as well as in our 1 year program, The Family Herbalist. This means we’re gardening two days each week, 6 months of the year, with 20-30 different individuals rotating through. Much of what we harvest from the garden goes to the VCIH apothecary in support of the sliding-scale community clinics, staffed by students and professional herbalists, that we operate around central Vermont.
We are also incredibly grateful to our big-hearted community of gardeners and herbalists for generously sharing plant divisions and extra starts. These include Jeff and Melanie Carpenter (of ZackWoods Herb Farm), Amy Goodman, JoAnn Darling (of Garden of Seven Gables), Rosemary Gladstar (of Sage Mountain Retreat Center), Sandra Lory (of Mandala Botanicals), Annie Wattles, Jane Hulstrunk, and, of course, VCIH folks Guido Mase, Betzy Bancroft and Anne Jameson.