Forest Gardening with Medicinal Herbs
Growing a garden of medicinal herbs is one of the best ways to embody the plant path, by becoming intimately involved in cultivating and harvesting the plants we use as medicine. Planning your herb garden requires knowing the conditions in which each type of plant will thrive. To learn where plants thrive the best, we observe how and where they grow in their natural habitat, then try to mimic those conditions in our gardens. Many medicinal herbs are grown commercially in a monoculture mindset, with high inputs of irrigation water, soil amendments and work needed to provide the right growing conditions. Forest gardening draws upon the observation that in nature, plants grow in complex polycultures, and the plant communities themselves build abundance over time. By structuring our medicinal herb gardens using patterns we observe in nature, then our gardens can provide a diverse yield of medicinal herbs throughout the year, while reducing the need for outside inputs because the plants within the garden form a supportive and resilient community. We will discuss some of the many common garden herbs, as well as rare and threatened medicinal plants, that are uniquely suited for forest gardening.
- Explore how medicinal plants can be planted within perennial polyculture guilds, to create communities that share resources of light, water and root space, provide each other with beneficial ecosystem services such as nitrogen fixation, dynamic accumulation of nutrients, attracting pollinators and providing wildlife habitat, while also providing a diverse harvest of medicinal herbs throughout the growing season.
- Learn how forest gardens are planted to mimic the succession and structure of natural forests, including discussion of how medicinal plants are arranged into vegetation layers such as ground covers, shrubs, vines, understory and overstory trees, and by their life cycles and growth preferences.
- Participate in a garden planning exercise, by getting clear on your intentions for an imagined garden and then using the forest gardening concept to build a guild of medicinal plants that fulfills your intentions.