Mother Earth Living

May Day at Buffalo Springs Herb Farm

For many of the 6,000 annual visitors to
Buffalo Springs Herb Farm near Raphine, Virginia, May Day is the
most memorable event. It’s a huge event for the whole community
held annually on the first Saturday in May. Don Haynie, co-owner of
Buffalo Springs Herb Farm, says May Day is a celebration of the
re-awakening of life in the garden.

“It’s a party that has its roots in the charm, wonder and magic
of ancient spring traditions,” he says.

May Day originated with the spring fertility festivals of
ancient Egypt and India and became popular in England during the
Roman occupation (about a.d. 42). Haynie says, “the ties to
antiquity that are evident in May Day celebrations still give depth
and richness to people’s lives today.”

May Day, with its Celtic overtones of Beltaine (pronounced
Bee-YAWL-tinnuh), which translates literally to “Bel’s fire,” is
one of two fire festivals in the Celtic year. To the Celts, it
marked the beginning of summer (the light half of the Celtic
calendar) and is a celebration of the return of life and fertility
to the world. The “otherworldly,” mystic feeling often attributed
to Beltaine is due in part because it is an in-between period, a
time when the sun appears to stand still and humans prepare for
planting and harvesting.

Buffalo Springs is the place to be if you are ready and anxious
to step into the garden. Haynie devotes time to answering garden
questions and focuses his seminars on new herbs and new ideas for
herb gardens as his contribution to the growing season ahead.

For the day-long May Day festival at the herb farm, Haynie draws
on the centuries-old, almost-universal symbol of May festivities
throughout Europe– the May Pole. A brightly decorated May Pole is
erected close to the 1890 valley bank barn and used as the focal
point for the day’s celebrations. As it has for eons, the May Pole
connects earth and sky, triggering the renewal of the growing
season and spawning fertility dances. The farm bell summons
visitors and participants to gather at noon for the crowning of the
May Queen, the featured entertainment and the dance around the May
Pole at Buffalo Springs.

Author of The Season of Advent: Herbal Symbolism, Projects,
Garden Designs and Recipes (Buffalo Springs, 2000), Haynie gives
vent to his natural curiosity and love of herbs, history and
tradition in all the projects he undertakes at the herb farm. May
Day is no exception. One year a local ballet company performed the
rites of spring on the lawn. Hands-on craft classes, an integral
part of all seasonal activities at the farm, have featured English
trough workshops and fairy house and furniture workshops on May
Day. Everything is coordinated with the theme and meticulously
planned, right down to the food.

In ancient Celtic times, “bringing in the May” was a ritual of
gathering herbs, flowers and branches to represent the healing and
fertile energies of the earth and distributing them at each house.
Especially important was the hawthorn tree, the tree of hope,
pleasure and protection. Only on May Eve would the strict taboo of
breaking the hawthorn branches be waived for houses to be decorated
to invoke protection and ensure good fortune for the growing
season. Garlands were constructed of long poles, wrapped with
greenery, to which a triangle frame was attached. Silver objects
such as spoons, broaches, watches or other trinkets were sewn to
the frame and both pole and frame were hoisted high and borne
proudly around the parish by the garland bearer.

With a nod to both of these May Day traditions, Haynie, a former
floral designer, festoons doors and garden gates around the herb
farm with freshly arranged herbs in May baskets.

Haynie’s interest in history is seen everywhere at Buffalo
Springs. Haynie and his partner, Tom Hamlin, offer workshops,
seminars, luncheons and other seasonal activities in lovingly
restored agricultural buildings that date to the 1790s. But it is
the stunning gardens that truly reflect Haynie’s extensive
expertise and understanding of herbs, design and garden

Buffalo Springs’ enchanting display gardens–13 in all–are
skillfully designed to flow from one “room” into the next. Once
inside, the visitor is instantly reminded of great herb gardens
throughout time. The arbor walk leads directly to the Biblical
Garden where lady’s mantle and sage adorn the central urn and
Madonna lily, bedstraw and thyme can be seen in the surrounding

From the Biblical Garden you can climb the path to the stone
walls of an overgrown abbey ruin. Here, Gregorian chants and
medieval herbs like lavender, agrimony, vervain, monkshood, St.
John’s wort, rue and chamomile combine their fragrant scents with
that of the thyme underfoot, to convince the senses that you have
entered one of the great monasteries of the Middle Ages.

In the Celestial Garden, created in the round to represent the
universe, herbs of the zodiac are grouped by color. Yellow and gold
herbs (golden thyme and yarrow, among others) imitate the sun;
lunar colors–silver and blue of lamb’s-ears, southernwood, lavender
and sage–reflect the moon; and the bold, bright purples of alliums
(curly chives, elephant garlic and alliums gigantium) indicate the

Haynie is at his best when explaining, teaching in a quiet,
gentle way, about herbs and the gardens at Buffalo Springs. Here in
his favorite place, the Medieval Garden, his life’s work culminates
and his goal of “adding quality to peoples’ lives through the use
of herbs” shines through with the clarity of one who truly loves
what he does.

“I love the Medieval Garden because it is a place to meditate
and to feel close to the saints and herbs of years past,” he says.
Seeing Haynie’s plans, thoughts, dreams and hopes for his gardens
realized is a thrill for visitors.

I can’t think of a better place to reflect on the significance
of renewal and rebirth that May Day represents than in the
exceptional atmosphere in this rural paradise on the western fringe
of Virginia’s Blue Mountains.

Pat Crocker, home economist and culinary herbalist, photographs,
lectures and writes about food and herbs. Her latest book, The
Smoothies Bible (Robert Rose, 2003), has just been released. Pat
recently traveled to Virginia to photograph Buffalo Springs Herb
Farm for an upcoming book project.

  • Published on Apr 1, 2003
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