Archive for June, 2010

planting a holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) bed

Today was a wonderfully productive and easy day. We put many many plants in the ground and the beds are filling up!  There are new full beds of holy basil (aka tulsi), astragalus, st. john’s wort, rosemary, thyme, hyssop, figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), and anise hyssop. We seeded a few California poppy in the center circle, as well as adding a few more hollyhock, a nice patch of jasmine-scented nicotiana, more lady’s mantle and violas and our little tribe of datura (aka jimson weed).

bed for the dragon--rosemary, thyme, hyssop

We put in a few more valerian, another blue vervain, and some strong, large wormwood and mugwort plants to begin our artemisia bed. We also seeded a number of artemisias, including sweet annie (A. annua, aka qing-hao), western mugwort (A. ludoviciana), redstem wormwood (A. scoparia, aka yin-chen), and sagebrush (A. tridentata).

planting artemisia seeds

We finished the bed for comfrey and nettles,  adding stones for pathways when we need to harvest, as well as rhubarb, cleavers and some horseradish that had volunteered elsewhere in the garden. We added hibiscus (the H. sabdariffa, whose calyxes we can make beautiful red tea from), which will be annual shrubs in the front of the bed of otherwise wild-children. The cleavers would like some support and a bit of shading, which they’ll get as the nettles get larger. We seeded in some purple Papaver somniferum Zahir to add some color and other delight to our comfrey-nettle-rhubarb palace–hopefully the weather won’t get too hot for them to germinate. We still have space in that bed for others–perhaps some mints or our bee balm (Monarda) collection?

CNR palace with paths complete, rhubarb in place; dragon comes in to right of rhubarb


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weed fest and moldy hay before we begin

Today we tackled one of the worst areas of the garden, which could no longer be avoided, as it sits between the circle and the long rows of beds. It is the transition between the spaces and has been a dumping ground for rocks, dirt piles,  and some moldy hay. Behind it you can see some old falling-apart compost piles and more dirt piles–which have served as nurse-beds for a most excellent crop of our biggest weed: galinsoga. Joy. (I hear this is a food-crop in other parts of the world…we will not starve.)

Luckily it was a balmy day, not too hot or buggy and we were a good sized crew. We all focused on working this bed, first weeding, then flattening it out. Our plan was to make a lasagna of layers of the original soil (lots of clay), the decomposing hay, and then some compost and soil on top. We planned to create a low rock wall to contain these layers and to define the bed. This is especially important, as we intend for this bed to be home to many of the herbs that are considered invasive: comfrey, nettle, rhubarb, horseradish. We wanted to give these important medicines pride of place in the garden, while being realistic. They need a barrier! (more…)

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heart of the garden

This was a fantastically satisfying day! We had a smaller crew because of Memorial Day, but we were no less productive.We laid stone paths in our central circle and planted a few foundation plants–holly hocks, meadowsweet and sweet cicely–among the 3 center stones. We also put lady’s mantle and a few violets and violas in. We had my mom’s help, too–she was hot on the trail of the pernicious bindweed, and made sure our stone paths were good and sturdy. Everyone also got a good glimpse of how I became a plant geek!

We had thought a lot about the paths in the center and had originally been planning 4 paths aligned with the compass, but in the end, it seemed a more organic, sinuous design wanted to emerge. It ended up looking a little like a yin-yang, with an extra squiggle, appropriate for this garden.

We also got a fair number of plants in the ground, too: many of our nervines, such as wood betony, catnip, blue vervain, motherwort, anise hyssop, peppermint and more lemon balm and skullcap; the beginnings of our lung bed, including angelica, elecampane and marshmallow; and then good beds full of echinacea, black cohosh and valerian. We are so grateful for the many mature transplants we received from friends–what a difference it makes to have happy, established perennials. We have many of the same plants coming along in the green house as seedlings, but we like having older “role models” for them to look up to.

Some of  The Evil Corners finally yielded fully to becoming the balance of the east side of the circle and all was amended with compost and wood ash. Wood chips were spread on the paths around the center. It’s really starting to shape up! Our structure is solid. Below is a gallery of some of the plants we put in and closer images of some of the stones and paths. (more…)

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Today was visually undocumented for 2 reasons–1) too hot for our brains to function properly and remember cameras and 2) we committed crimes against the medicine fairies that I for one don’t want to be reminded of. It was 80 degrees by the time we met at 9:30 and only got hotter–95 in town that day. We had more bed shaping and digging to do (sweaty JOY) and we had some mature perennials that had been dug elsewhere and needed to be put in the ground right away. Unfortunately, right away meant on this blistering day that spelled disfigurement and misery for some of the babies. Blech. We gave everyone lots of water with fish/seaweed emulsion and the usual rescue remedy given to all transplants, but it was still just terrible. If I’d been working outside of the schedule of the apprenticeship, I never would’ve done it, but this was what we had so we went with it. Still a teaching moment–what NOT TO DO.

So, now we have some arnica plants that were ready to bloom beautifully who are currently recuperating and giving a good showing of flowers–though not what it would’ve been–on somewhat browned stalks with some shriveled leaves here and there. I think we’ll snip them all and hope for a second bloom. A couple of the earlier transplanted st. john’s worts didn’t appreciate the heat either–even though they didn’t get moved at all that day. On a brighter note, the calendula and valerian we put in look just fantastic, so it wasn’t a total disaster.

The day ended with some folks taking the first swim in the local icy brook. Too early for this sort of heat.

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We had to skip meeting on the second Monday in May and so came together again after 2 weeks. What a difference! Unfortunately, it was mostly a difference in weed size. We had a lot of digging to do, especially to reclaim some of the rocky, clay-filled corners of the garden that hadn’t been worked before. We also had a lot of amending to do–especially in beds that had been home to greedy potatoes–and in others that are just too full of clay for most plants to absorb nutrients or respirate properly. We added tons of compost to improve nutrients and aeration and a bit of wood ash to raise the pH. Medicinal herbs are far less picky about soil conditions, especially pH, than veggies, but we decided we might as well adjust our slightly acidic soil to give them the best environment possible.

Here’s the whole crew hard at work on those rocky corners and other weedy pursuits.

reclaiming the corners


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