Sitting here at the height of summer, I am surrounded by flurries of activity and everywhere I look there are creatures and beings singing, eating, dozing, flying, building, arguing, or doing any other number of things. I have watched this small plot of land transform over the years from a simple yard to an oasis. And I can tell you in one word how it happened… plants.
The first to arrive were the birds. There had always been some, but once we began planting with trees and shrubs, increasing the perching and nesting areas, the bird populations multiplied quickly. As the trees grew taller and filled in, and berry bushes started to produce fruit, we saw even more species. Our garden ecosystem is home to cardinals, finches, wrens, robins, jays, woodpeckers, bluebirds, chickadee, sparrows, blackbirds, starlings, juncos, kingfishers, owls, orioles, catbirds, mockingbirds, doves, hummingbirds and many more. In the mornings we are greeted with a cacophony of bird song that I wouldn't trade for anything, and our days are filled with their calls in every waking hour.
Trees and bushes bring the birds.
This pattern has played out for other creatures as well. As our garden has grown, more of a ecosystem landscape really, life of all kinds has moved in, and it's always been welcome. By day we are surrounded by birds, squirrels, cats and buzzing insects, the nocturnal shift brings out the opossums, raccoons, bats, frogs, toads and snakes. If we are lucky, we catch a glimpse of the bunnies in the morning. Rarely seen, but always present are the moles and voles, chipmunks and fox. In the richly composted soil reside magnitudes of macro and micro critters, and ants are simply everywhere.
All of this makes me happy. It gives me hope that life can always thrive and we can live in harmony on this earth. And all it comes down to is habitat restoration (i.e. build the soil and allow plants to grow).
If you read this blog, you know I have an affinity for the healing plants. My aim from day one in this garden was always to grow, cultivate and harvest medicinal plants. But I have always taken a larger view of my gardening efforts. I never imagined a medicine garden patterned after commercial gardens or farms, with single crops lined up in rows, where the soil is tilled every year and all other plants (weeds) are expunged. My view was more inclusive. Instead of crops, I imagined communities. I wanted a living space, with niches and microclimates, with spaces that invited sitting, and wandering, and tree climbing. I dreamt of multi-storied corners and a sunny spot for the medicine wheel. I used permaculture as my guide and never looked back. The result is an every changing habitat that is home to countless other creatures, that provides my family with the beauty and spirit nourishing gifts of Nature, that feed us fruits and vegetables, that gives my children the places to climb, swim, play and hide that are so precious in childhood, and that provides me with the medicine I need to do my work and take care of my family.
All this happens on three quarters of an acre.
There are many meanings to the word medicine. As an herbalist, or wortcunner, I use the word mostly to talk about the herbs and their healing effect on the body. But in my garden, I am awash in medicine. The plants are here, yes. But the true medicine comes in the totality of all the components of life in this garden, from the smallest to the largest. How can I possible describe the feeling I get in my heart as I sit in the shade of a tree I planted 10 years ago (now 25 feet tall) and feel the breeze cool my skin as I hear birdsong and an insect buzzes by on it's way to pollinate the meadowsweet, which I inhale into my lungs and gaze upon the many shades of green, accented by fuchsia, red, cream, pink, orange, yellow and violet flowers? It is a state of blessing.
This is my garden.