May 3rd: garden rehab, seed-planting, peony, raven blessing

beds to reshape; moving "weeds"

The first day arrived cool and overcast, but thankfully dry. Before we began, a raven flew low and slow over the garden. We took this as an auspicious portent of strong healing to come from our gardens and work together. But, before any of that, we had so much digging digging digging to do!

Here’s what we had to work with to begin. This garden was previously built and tended by others, but the raised beds had oozed out into the paths, the weeds had taken over and the rock piles were high. The main crop seems to have been potatoes (they’re everywhere!) and strawberries. I never thought I’d think of strawberries as a weed. Sarah’s husband generously spread straw on many beds earlier in the spring (when it was getting so hot so early) to keep the weeds down. Behind the photographer is the round end of the garden with concentric circles around a central egg-shaped bed. This will appear in subsequent posts. Here are the two rows of smaller beds (20 in all!) that we’ll use mainly for annuals. We finished weeding and reshaping all 20 beds on this day! Wow, what 10 pairs of hands can do!!

transplanting st. johnswort with Monty's "help"

St. J sure doesn’t love to be moved, but we were weeding beds and didn’t want to compost our beloved friend. We moved this one and a few others into the bed that will eventually house our seedlings now slowly growing in flats. Monty is our resident puppy who likes to lend a paw whenever he can.

red (unpeeled) and white (peeled) peony root

Sarah and I dug a peony to be moved before our first meeting and kept the root fresh in the fridge with the dirt still on it. We washed it and sliced it to prepare both red (unpeeled) and white (peeled and boiled for 15 minutes) peony root. Both were later dried in the sun for a couple of weeks in a warm, airy room.

calendula seedlings

To hide from the rain, we spent the last couple of hours inside. First we had a feast of sauteed burdock roots and dandelion greens (with onion and carrot in sesame oil), along with burdock root tea and a separate dandelion root tea. Both were sweet and tasty–earthy and nourishing and oh so good for our recently hibernating livers.

Next we planted some seeds–the last push, as Sarah and I had planted many flats of seedlings a month earlier.  Today’s planting included 12-15 herbs, such as marshmallow, valerian, wood betony, motherwort, sage, nettle, and more holy basil and lemon balm. They joined the ranks of 20 or so other flats all lined up in the south-facing sunroom at my house. The calendula is already a few inches tall. These seeds came from the London Physic Garden.

skullcap & dan shen seedlings

rows of seed flats

Dan shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is a fantastic anti-inflammatory and blood thinner used a great deal by Chinese herbalists and more and more by Western practitioners. Sarah and I are both so excited to meet this plant in person, especially to check out its purportedly quite-red root (which gives it another common name, red root sage).

All in all, a satisfying day and a wonderful start to our season. All of the apprentices are willing and excited workers and ready to learn–and Sarah and I get to learn tons, too. The garden fairies are happy.

red and white peony
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