The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center grace the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and help us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
This gardener is making the Heritage Herb Garden ready for company during the Lavish Herbal Feast and Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza on May 12 through the 14. This coming Saturday, May 7, is the early-bird deadline for saving $10 on the workshop registration and making reservations for the Lavish Herbal Feast.
Many useful plants are being pulled and composted in preparation for planting more useful plants. Free volunteer herbs, often referred to as weeds, nourish and support health or make attractive flowers later on in the growing season. I like to know the names and uses of all of the plants that grow around me. For that reason, I am so delighted that Dr. Art Tucker will be one of our very special speakers for the upcoming Heritage Herb Spring Extravaganza. He is the go-to expert, outstanding in his field of plant chemistry and positive plant identification. Art Tucker is a professor of botany at Delaware State University and is coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Herbs—A Comprehensive Reference to Herbs of Flavor and Fragrance. He has published widely on many herbs and essential oils; is an acknowledged authority of the lavenders; and is on the editorial board of Economic Botany and Journal of Essential Oil Research.
Getting back to current gardening, chickweed, Stellaria media, is the low-growing annual that is yellowing and has finished its growing season in our Arkansas gardens. It has been growing all spring, in fertile soils and on compost heaps. At its peak, chickweed has white, starburst flowers on the tips. Enough chickweed for the world is growing in my gardens! I don’t cuss it because it is so handy for food and first aid. My herbalist friend, Alice of Healing Hollers, dries her chickweed for making salve. I am still nibbling mine as I weed it out of shady places.
Cleavers, or ladies’ bedstraw, Galium aparine, is sneaking up in the daylily beds and beginning to form small mats in the woods. You know cleavers when you grab one and it grabs you back like Velcro®. The stems are long and lay on the ground or on the top of plants it covers. The leaves are in whorls around the rasping stems, in groups of eight. Unremarkable flowers grow on stems that originate out from the leaf clusters. What is remarkable are the seeds that follow the flowers. They are as clingy as the stems, attaching to socks, gloves, hair, and fur to hitch rides to new ground. Find the young plants now to begin to control future cleavers. Get these annuals before they set seed. Know them as a medicinal herb. The fresh herb has juice that contains citric acid (vitamin C); alternatively, the juice can cause rashes on sensitive skin so wear gloves when you weed. I might have a cup of cleavers tea or I might just put all the weeds on the compost heap; regardless, it is really good to know the names and virtues of these plants.
I leave the Carolina cranesbill, Geranium carolinianum, Venus’ looking glass, Triodanis perfoliata, and Deptford pink, Dianthus armeria because the tiny blossoms of these little volunteer wildflowers provide nectar to our friends the lady beetles. Lady beetles, or ladybugs, get protein from a steady diet of aphid and mealy bugs. Everyone likes sugar, including beneficial predators in the garden. When I plant sweet alyssum and other small-flowered, sweet bloomers, I am doing it both to charm human senses and to support my little army of beneficial bugs.
All garden plants will benefit from a side dressing of fertilizer and compost this week. I am sprinkling a mixture of compost, fish, kelp, and soft rock phosphate around specimen plants as I weed. Every time weeds are pulled and planting holes are dug, oxygen is introduced to the soil. Oxygen makes the ‘micro-herd’ (friendly little micro-organisms) active and hungry. They consume organic matter and release nutrients to plants. Adding compost and natural fertilizer keeps organic matter levels high in the enriched soil.
Everything needs our attention during the spring. A sense of urgency drives us to make a fast, clean sweep of weeding and removing last autumn’s tree leaves from the beds. Just as quickly, we want to fly through the chore of digging the holes for planting, pop in the new plants without loosening the roots, water them in and hurry on to the next chore. I prefer to think about what I am doing as I work; methodically selecting volunteer plants to leave. Then I can take time to care for each individual new addition and mix and apply the compost and natural fertilizers for the long-term health of the garden.
Maybe it is my age or maybe it is that the garden is the one place on this planet where I have the opportunity to co-create a little bit of paradise. It just takes time, patience and knowledge. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.