A Medicinal Herb Garden

Gardening, Herbalism, Horticulture, Wellness

Winter is a time when all of us in the horticulture department switch gears from being down in the dirt to planning how we will spend our time there in the next season. This involves evaluating our gardens, interfacing with other departments, and designing new garden spaces. This last element of our job is something from which we all derive deep pleasure. I am especially excited to share some new plans for the Lerner Garden of the Five Senses this coming season.

In December, I completed an eight-month herbal apprenticeship course through Earthwalk in Rockport, ME, and it was a transformative experience. For me, it encompassed a whole new realm of ways to think about and experience plants—not just as an element that adds beauty to our landscape, but as a means to help heal the body, heart, and mind. This concept is as old as time, but I found that as we went deeper into our course material, my relationship with the natural world broadened and intensified. This summer and fall, I found myself consumed with herbal gardening and wild harvesting, making tinctures, teas, and infused oils. It was through time spent with these occupations that this new-found intimacy was forged. I found that it was impossible to harvest from the wild while walking hardily through it; instead, it required moving slowly, stopping often, and looking carefully and quietly at the tiny minutia of plants and life systems at my feet.

Fast-forward to quiet winter contemplation in the time of Covid—what better time to plan a new medicinal herb garden exhibit in Lerner Garden of the Five Senses? As I started to imagine this new garden, I realize that I wanted to do more than just show important herbal plants and their therapeutic applications. My goal became using this space to showcase the rich traditions of many cultures, such as the Indigenous People of Maine, early European settlers, and Eastern cultures, highlighting the wisdom, traditions, folklore, and mysticism in which healing modalities were often encased.

The new garden will be a work in progress over the next couple of seasons. This year, we will get the plants established and offer some interesting interpretive material about them and the cultures associated with them. Next year, we will expand on this idea and invite people beyond the initial exhibit into the wider garden. We will do this by creating a medicinal plant icon and a coordinating Gardens-wide map that will offer a fun seek-and-find experience for our visitors.

My hope is that everyone will experience this new medicinal herb garden in different ways. Whether by resonating with the folklore or the amazing super powers of the plants, each visitor can make a meaningful connection that will stay with them long after their visit to the Gardens.