The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.
This week there are many seeds ready for harvest in the garden and many in the landscape that threaten to shatter and populate next season’s garden with unwanted invaders.

In the Kitchen Garden the poppies, cilantro (coriander) and chervil plants are dispersing their seed. They appear dead. In fact, the plants are no longer living but they didn’t die so much as they completed their cycle of life. I realize there is only a frog’s hair of difference between the two states. The gardener’s difference is if they had died from disease or an overwhelming pest attack, they would have been pulled long ago. I allow them to stand in a non-living state because they are finishing a process. The seed must ripen and be ready for dispersal before I can collect it for replanting or packaging for sale.  

A clean 5-gallon bucket or large paper sacks are handy seed-collecting tools. I set the receptacle down next to the plant, bend the tops into the opening and cut the stems. Then I bash the tops from side to side. Most of the seed fall right in. Before I get to them, many seeds fall on to the mulch or soil surface of the bed and will wait to germinate until conditions are right. How lovely to get an early start on next spring’s crop.

At home, I cut the seeds from undesirable grasses in my garden and take them out to the donkey pasture. Then I either dig up the roots or cover the crowns with layers of paper and mulch. Whiskey and Tango eat the freshly cut blades of grass and fertilize the earth. Why the best forage for donkeys thrives in my garden instead of the pasture is truly a mystery that I am doing my best to reverse.

Experience tells me to be just as careful to collect weed seeds if I want to save future work. I cut the seed-bearing stems into a trash bag because these unsavory characters do not belong in the compost pile. Using a string trimmer, a mower or a hoe to cut down unwanted dock or thistle or Johnston grass with ripe seeds is just asking for an exponential crop of weeds next year. Of course, cultivating those rascals out before they mature to seed is the best laid plan.

Rain has been so plentiful that it is a great year to be a plant and a gardener. Please bring some gardening buddies over to the Ozark Folk Center State Park for a stroll through the Heritage Herb Garden. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture!