The Garden: A Grower's Story

Where your pills come from

| March/April 1999

  • “There’s no feeling quite like that of basking in the garden on the summer solstice, after most of the season’s plantings have been completed.”
    Steven Foster
  • One view of the Elixir Farm seed gardens in Brixey, Missouri. Elixir Farm focuses on Chinese medicinals and rare herbs.
    Steven Foster
  • An aerial view of the herbal education ­gardens at Herb Pharm in Williams, ­Oregon.
    Herb Pharm

Before they are dried, powdered, pressed, encapsulated, or poured into dark bottles, herbs grow, offering ­beauty to eye and mind. Here, one ­grower describes his experience with medicinal plants.

It's Spring now, but I look forward to June 22—there’s no feeling quite like that of basking in the garden on the summer solstice, after most of the season’s plantings have been completed. My feeling of calm euphoria, stemming from the presence of a diverse plant community that has so much to offer and teach us, is stronger than the sense of accomplishment I feel after a long spring of demanding labor.

The garden I refer to is Roots N’ Herbs Farm, known formally as the Sustainable Education and Resource Center, a nonprofit endeavor devoted to exploring sustainable agriculture and plant diversity in our bioregion. Established in 1995, the farm is located thirty miles north of Taos, New Mexico, in a pristine environment nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; it sits at an elevation of 8,000 feet. Slightly more than one acre is intensively cultivated using organic methods, and it produces more than 100 varieties of medicinal and culinary herbs, vegetables, and flowers. It has been rumored, though not substantiated, that our farm, with its scale and diversity, may be the only one of its kind in the United States at such an elevation.

The garden’s diversity reflects that of its three founders, of which I am one. We brought an eclectic blend of ­experience with us, including seed-saving, herbalism, and permaculture (ecological farming). Supported by the knowledge and guidance of local master gardeners, we set out to create a garden where form and function were indistinguishable.

Nature takes the lead

One of the principle aims of permaculture is to try to mimic the abundance, diversity, and self-sufficiency of nature. Many plants that grow side by side in the wild do so for a variety of compelling reasons. One herb may offer another much-needed shade, protection from wind and predators, or fertilizer in the form of decaying plant matter.

Conversely, some plants can detract from the ability of others to thrive. So one of the goals of permaculture is to establish a diverse, thriving, and, most of all, balanced ecosystem that becomes more abundant and self-maintaining as time goes by. In putting this philosophy into practice, we found that the perennial and self-seeding annual plants, which reappear in the garden faithfully year in and year out, became the foundation of the garden. Aside from being intentionally planted as part of our permaculture, all of our perennial and self-seeding annuals have medicinal qualities and applications.

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