Grow Your Own
While I love the clinical education on plants used for aromatherapy and herbalism (I love teaching!), I also love love love just talking to folks about how to grow their own, and demystify growing medicinals for anyone who wants to use herbs in any way.
I started growing medicinal and culinary herbs in pots on our deck when we first moved to Wisconsin. In Chicago I had some window plants, but no outdoor space, so I craved green. We were on the second floor, and had a 6x12 or so small deck. At first I had a few pots, in the second year I had a packed deck with barely enough room to sit. From there we moved to a duplex rental, which was much larger and had a back deck by the kitchen and a small front porch. I had some plants there, but also had a newborn. When I became pregnant with our second (when the first was 11 months old), we moved to our first home. It was a 1400 square foot small home with a new urbanism design. That meant almost no yard. New urbanism works to decrease expanses of lawn and waste of water for lawns. The houses had a 10' or so front yard and no back yard as the garages went out the back to a carriage lane. The yards were only on one side, going from our siding up to the neighbors siding. Our yard was 18 feet wide, and less than 100 feet long. When we moved in, I started by planting food in our landscaping areas. Then I expanded into pots on the deck. And then I started carving out both sides of the yard - over 11 years we ended up with all food plants and only a walking path down the center. Every other space was perennials, annuals, fruit, vegetables, medicinal herbs, flowers.
We moved to have a bigger yard, but quickly realized we needed a community garden plot as well. Our next home had a traditional backyard, but an HOA, so we managed the plantings within landscaping for visual appeal. It was still food and medicine - but the blueberry bush along the front entry sidewalk was next to flowering Echinacea, Black Cohosh, Hyssop, and other beautiful flowerin plants.
The next year we realized we needed more space for our #happyflowerproject, where we grew flowers for the food pantry, so we managed to find someone who bartered for space to grow on her farm. We did that for two summers while still growing on our deck and in landscaping on our home.
After a few years there, we realized we could grow in a larger space and that we wanted acres. My worry was always as a person with RA/SLE and other autoimmune issues combined with getting older, it would be too much to manage. But, gradually scaling up made me realize that as long as you plant perennials as well as annuals, expand a little every year, carefully plan location, water, expansions, and plants, that you can create a low work high yield garden space, no matter how much space you have.
I always tell folks how easy it is for them to grow their own herbs, no matter if it is only pots on a small deck or acres of blank canvas. I know this is true, because I have done it all myself!
This year our plan is to do more sharing on the blog and YouTube to help people grow their own medicinal and aromatic herbs, culinary herbs, and perennial foods using permaculture and organic, regenerative practices. We have some Lunar Hollow Farm online classes in the works, and plan to publish more ebooks, garden plans, and other freebies! We also hope to do mini courses on the things we love to do and we always get questions on - sourdough, smart home systems, smart farm systems, herbs for chickens, seed starting, and so on. This is a whole family endeavor, and we are all excited to share.
Growing herbs is not hard. The more we grow our own the less waste we generate - no plastic baggies in shipping boxes coming from around the world - and the more we appreciate and connect with the plants we are using, as we nurtured them from seeds to tea. We don't have to grow everything, but we can start with a few of our favorites that can grow well in our zones/regions/climates. Growing our own also saves money, and super fresh, carefully harvested at their peak and gently dried herbs, are often more flavorful, colorful, aromatic, and vibrant than bulk herbs. Growing something yourself that you can pull out of a jar in January and drink while sitting by the fire is one of the most rewarding feelings. Can't wait to share more!
Happy Flower Project.
I realized that I haven't written about our garden in many months. Once planting season begins it seems that summer rushes by, noted only by how many days has it been since it last rained, and what is ready to pick, always hot and sunny but urgent in the need for constant weeding and tending.
Interestingly, our garden(s) took on a whole new level this summer. I don't usually like to tell people of any of our charitable projects. Doing nice things or donating to help someone get on their feet or working and volunteering to help people is something we should all do without any expectation of attention or praise. Because it is the right thing to do. But when my children are involved on this level, I like to recognize them for their kindness, generosity, and loving hearts. They are amazing humans.
Back in March while we were starting seedlings, my boys had the idea to grow flowers for the food pantry. Our community garden keeps a bin up front for the local food pantry so that any extras in the garden can go right to them. The local food pantry also has an extra large plot there managed by volunteers to grow as much fresh produce as they can as well, so they pick up the extras in the bin when they are there. We have always put our extras in the bin, but growing flowers and making bouquets so that families could have something fresh and colorful on their tables in addition to the food sounded like a fantastic idea. I wrote a letter to our local Badger Prairie Needs Network and asked if they would take flowers if we grew/bunched/delivered them. They said yes! The boys wanted to call it the Happy Flower Project (#happyflowerproject).
After getting the YES from the food pantry, we went into overdrive choosing flower seeds and starting a few hundred extra seedlings. I quickly realized that our very small community garden plot wouldn't hold that much and that our home garden wasn't developed enough yet for that many more plantings. But we really wanted to make our flower project for the food pantry work! Gulp. I kept growing those seedlings, thinking we would find a way. In May, just as I was hardening off hundreds of flowers, a local unschooler mom wrote to ask if I knew Janelle, who had garden space to spare and was looking for some people to fill it. I wrote to her and we went out to see her lovely valley where she organically raises goats and has a large organic garden plot. We were SO LUCKY to get space there, and we planted so.many.flowers. in late May and early June. My husband, as always, jumped into our family project and helped with everything. In addition to all of the flowers, we planted many medicinal herbs and two vines of cucumbers and heirloom pumpkins in that patch. This space is twice the size of the other community garden plot, and the soil is wonderful (and the goats eat our weeds by the bucketful).
We chose to plant only family food like tomatoes, peppers, peas, watermelon, and some herbs at the community garden plot as it has picky soil and isn't very big. We did plant zinnias around the perimeter for extra cutting flowers if we needed them. At home, we expanded our fruit plantings and I added additional many perennial plants in a few new small beds around the house. As we rotated weeding/harvesting/caretaking from garden to garden each week, the goat farm was quickly the favorite place for the boys as there are goats (baby goats!), chickens, and a large trampoline there. Woot! Even with how hot our summer has been, things were growing well. Of course that led to the inevitable garden crash - a few weeks ago we had a few days of torrential rain and our community garden plot was completely submerged. We ended up losing almost 100% of the plants in the community garden plot from the floodwaters and then not long after, to rot. Can you imagine how relieved I am that we had the other plot out at the goat farm? And that most of our flowers and medicinal herbs are there? We are again SO lucky.
Every Friday we go out to the farm garden to pick flowers for a few hours and transport them in buckets of water back to our house (the garden is about 15-20 minutes from home). From there we divide them by type and then create mixed bouquets. We rubberband the ends and put the bunches into fresh buckets of water. After that all that is left is that we load up our car and deliver all of the flowers to the Badger Prairie Needs Network so that they have fresh flowers for busy Saturdays! We have been filling a dozen mason jar vases each week so that the community meal tables have fresh flowers (as well as the registration desk and waiting areas). The garden has been producing more and more each week and we have been able to make dozens of bouquets - filling several buckets - for visitors to choose from each week. We are hoping to increase our bouquet count each week for a few more weeks before they start to slow down for the season.
My kids know all the hard work required in doing these bouquets, but also get to carry buckets of those flowers and a crate of filled vases into the food pantry every Friday, knowing that people have been so happy to see fresh flowers that they can take home for their table. It has been eye-opening for them to see how our local community of individuals, businesses, restaurants and chefs work together to help over 300 families in our school district alone. How chefs donate their time, how local businesses and restaurants donate all of their extra produce and meals, how local stores donate their dents and bakery items. How gardeners bring in giant bags of produce. How many volunteers donate their time to clean, prep, cook, stock, make, and feed so many people in our community. They see how even in our small town we are all a part of something together, and that it is important.
The #happyflowerproject has been a nice experience for all of us this summer, and I am so glad we jumped in head first and that so many things came together for us to make this happen. I hope the weather allows us to keep this going for as long as possible! So I am tooting a horn for my amazing kids with their kind hearts and commitment to our community. And their recognition that flowers can make people smile.
I'll share more about what we ended up growing in our 3 gardens and what we plan to pot to overwinter and which varieties we are growing again next year - but for now, just my boys. <3
Edited to add: I have had several people write to ask how we "do it all" with mast cell disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and asthma (etc.) on our plate. And the key is, we pick our own projects, we create our own parameters and expectations, and we deliver based on our own timeline. We accommodate ourselves. We create our own opportunities together as a family, and we do what works for us! (And, my kids are amazing.) ❤️
I am a certified aromatherapist, clinical herbalist, certified permaculture designer (PDC), organic gardener, plant conservationist, photographer, writer, designer, artist, nature lover, health justice activist, whole foods maker, and mother of two young adults in south central Wisconsin.