HERBS!

OVERVIEW

AIMS:

  1. To learn more about herbs that are good for tisane (tea)
  2. To decide what herbs to include in space that’s come up in my garden
  3. For it to be a quick design, inspired by Looby Macnamara’s idea of a ’12 page download’

DATE: 4 July – 18 July 2023

STATUS: Implementing

LOCATION: My home back garden, Penarth

CLIENT: Myself, the Living World, my learners

DOMAINS: EDUCATION AND CULTURE, LAND AND NATURE STEWARDSHIP, HEALTH AND SPIRITUAL WELLBEING

FRAMEWORK: GROWER (Goal, Reality, Options, What/Where/When, Evaluation, Reflection)

ETHICS: Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share

PRINCIPLES: Principles of Nature from Isla Macleod in ‘Rituals for Life’ book

TOOLS:

Vision, SPELLS Goals, basemap, Jasmine Dale’s Elements Survey, sun sector map/overlay, design web, principles, lists, McHarg’s Exclusion Method, Materia Medica spreadsheet, planting plan, Phasing – Now, Soon, Later, Ethics, wild plants as soil indicators.

RESOURCES/SUPPORT:

Books – New Book of Herbs by Jekka McVicar, Breverton’s Complete Herbal, Isla Macleod’s Rituals for Life, Medicinal Herb Colouring Book, Seed Sista’s Sensory Herbal Handbook. Carla’s Design Checklist, Jasmine Dale’s Permaculture Design Companion.

Websites – urbanherbs, jekkas herbalhaven, pfaf, rebeccasherbs

CONTEXT:

I have two small raised beds in the back garden. They have had annuals and biennials growing in them, which will reach the end of their life cycle soon. On 16th May I gave a presentation about my Urban Forager’s Garden at The Something Club’s Spring Grow-along. At that event someone asked me what my plans were for the garden next. Since then, I have started a permaculture learning session (see Design 6), part of the offer is tea made with herbs from the garden. Seems like an opportune moment to bring in some more herbs, as a way to add extra yields, connect with plants more deeply by learning about their healing properties and have a good selection of tea to offer future learners. 

GOAL

To begin, I spent a few minutes creating a vision, as a way to uncover my intentions for the design, this brought me to be ready to create the SPELLS Goals.

SPELLS Goals

By the end of the design I would like to:

S – Choose a range of perennial herbs (Simple/ Sensible)

P – Take into account the sun and shade in the beds (Purposeful)

E – Learn about the healing properties of the herbs I choose (Enriching)

L – Choose only enough plants to fit into the space you have available (Limits)

L – Share the tea from the crop and knowledge of their healing properties with my learners! (Living/Lively (regenerative))

S – Develop the garden to the next level, including a shift in focus from edible perennials, to include herbs which look beautiful, are good for tea, smell lovely and offer something for the pollinators too (Significant)

REALITY

I began by walking around the front and back garden, making a list on my phone of herbs I already have. 

Then I made a basemap, plotting the plants that are in the raised beds at the moment.

I used the internet to discover that self-heal is an indicator of poor soils and that broad-leaved willowherb is used in phytoremediation. This does make me wonder about what’s going on with the soil. The two plants are growing next to each other in the shade created by the large biennial Japanese burdock. 

I then used Jasmine Dale’s Elements Survey (from Permaculture Design Companion) to see what else needed to emerge.

My observations of the garden during the day on 5th July have enabled me to see where the sun hits the raised beds. I plotted my observations on a sector map, using an overlay. 

This helped me see how deep the shade is, particularly in the bed closet to the wall. The lower bed seems to have full sun from around 11am – 3pm, only 4 hours. The sunniest spots are the right side of the top bed, and the left side of the bottom bed. 

At this point I was feeling like I needed more from this design, so I used the Design Web as an exploration tool.

This generated a whole range of useful insights about this design, and about other things in the garden and in my learning, practice and work that are impacting at the moment:

  • That I tend to pack in plants too close together, I could use the space that’s coming up to move some plants into to give them more room.
  • That I need to get better at using the yields in the garden.
  • That I have a strong desire to connect with and know more deeply the plants in my garden.
  • I’d like to create time in my life for drawing, walking and cooking more, plus time to enjoy the garden and the tea myself!
  • That there’s lessons from the wild plants, willowherb and self-heal, about the soil in the beds
  • I’m looking to welcome in gratitude, care, recognition, and support, and maintain the threads of connection I have in the world around me, whilst still having time to get through my diploma. That I have much persistence, patience and determination.

It enabled me to spot some FUNCTIONS of the design, in relation to my wider learning and ambitions to draw a good livelihood from all the work I do:

  • That I’d like to demonstrate more land-based skills, particularly mapping
  • I need lots of small ways to generate income, there’s lots of potential in The Garden for this, eg propagating and selling my collection of edible perennial plants, seeds and herb teas. 
  • That it’s about healing our broken relationship with ‘nature’ (the living world) – which is a core aim of my social enterprise Wild Ceridwen CIC.
  • That I’d like to learn the guild function and folklore of the herbs.
  • The design is about connection to my witchy roots and desire to become indigenous to place.

OPTIONS 

To begin this phase, I focused on thinking deeply into how the set of principles I chose, from Isla Macleod’s book, Rituals for Life, resonated and applied in the design. 

How the principles resonate with me and apply in this design. Insights in pink came from design web tool.

The key insights I gleaned from the analysis of the principles were:

  • That I’d like to find embodied, intuitive and emotional ways of connecting with the plants
  • I need to learn how to propagate my plants
  • Let the annual and biennial plants complete their life cycle
  • I care for the plants, they care for me with their healing properties, it’s reciprocal
  • Must make sure to give space for airflow through the plants spacing
  • Which herbs will be most suitable for the conditions?
  • Make sure to use the yield! 

Next, Using books and websites, I made a list of herbs I would like to have. 

Before I moved on to making design decisions in the What/Where/When phases of the design, I reflected on the key insights that had emerged in the Goal, Reality and Options phase. 

WHAT INSIGHTS WILL HELP YOU MAKE DESIGN DECISIONS?

  • There are lots of plants I’d like, but they must be good for tea, have leaves for tea, not roots as too hard to process, must be suitable for sun/shade conditions
  • It’s important to me to get to know the healing qualities of the herbs I choose
  • Pay attention to spacing
  • Learn how to do vegetative propagation
  • Having just perennials in the garden is becoming more important to me now
  • Some plants I already have need moving
  • Knowing where the sun falls in the day helps with plant placing
  • Making time for enjoying the garden and herbs myself, including other ways of knowing (embodied, intuitive, emotional)

WHAT? 

I used a form of McHarg’s Exclusion Method to decide which of those herbs were suitable, given the conditions. Read the document here

From this examination, I was able to see clearly which plants were the ones to get: 

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), Motherwort, Horehound, Alecost, Calamint, Wild Basil, Orange Thyme, French Tarragon, Vietnamese Coriander, Lemon Curd Thyme, Roman Chamomile.

As I have minty flavours already for tea, I decided not to get any mint plants, event though I love the range of flavours they come in, because they are better suited for the front garden.

WHERE?

To getter a better understanding of the plants I have chosen, I made a spreadsheet to document their properties and characteristics. Later, I will add more info about other plants in the garden to this. This is my own Materia Medica, and feels like an important document for deepening my knowledge of the plants in my garden.

I’m also keen to know my plants in other ways, including my embodied, emotional and intuitive experience of them, and their taste, look and smell! All this will come in time, as I make space for drawing and relaxing, observing as the seasons turn once more and as the plants grow and I get to make tea with them. 

In my design web exploration I identified that some plants could do with moving:

  • Move comfrey to by bug hotel
  • Move gooseberry where comfrey was
  • Move red currant to sunnier spot at The Kymin
  • Move Lovage to larger space at The Kymin
  • Move salad burnett 
  • Move sea holly to give it more space, the marshmallow is getting big and swamping it
  • The betony will be fine where it is, until the gooseberry gets bigger

Next, I made a scale plan of the beds and the chosen plants, to decide placing.

WHEN? 

EVALUATION

Were your project aims met through the design solution created? 

Yes they were. I am satisfied that the aims were met.

The aims for the design were:

  • To learn more about herbs that are good for tisane (tea) – achieved
  • To decide what herbs to include in space that’s come up in my garden – achieved
  • For it to be a quick design, inspired by Looby Macnamara’s idea of a ’12 page download’. Somewhat achieved – my intention with this was to make the design smaller. The design is the smallest yet in comparison to previous designs, at just over 3000 words.

The SPELLS Goals for the design are shared here, with a consideration of how they were achieved

As part of the evaluation process, I considered the ETHICS in relation to the SPELLS Goals.

What was challenging? 

As this design is a plan, it’s hard to evaluate it true effectiveness as I am still in the process of implementing.  

What would you do differently next time?

Pay more attention to what lessons the wild plants are offering. Look more deeply into self-heal and willowherb and what they are telling me about the soil, doing a more rigorous soil analysis. And also what they are telling me about what healing I need for myself. 

REFLECTION

FRAMEWORK: GROWER

Right at the very start of the design I wrote the aims, I like to get going with thinking about sims before I decide the framework/process for the design. Then as soon as I started getting going I was immediately looking at setting Goals. This felt too quick.  I prefer setting goals after the observation phase of designing, as part of assimilation/analysis, once I have established where I am, then I’m ready to work out where I want to be. So having goals as the first thing doesn’t work so well for me and my style of designing. 

Other than that, I enjoyed using the framework. The What/When/Where phase suited this design well, as it helped me be clear about the design decisions I was making. I like that evaluation and reflection is included in the framework, that works better for me than when its an addition at the end. 

TOOLS:

Vision – helped me see what i twas I was aiming for, a short exercise, but it helped to clarify my thoughts.

SPELLS Goals – I love using this tool I have come up with, it supports good decision making around aims, and I like that it deepens as you go along and the limits feel important. This is the third time I have used it. I really ought to write it our to share with others.

Basemap – fulfilled the function of enabling me to demonstrate map skills, and supported my observations, particularly around noticing the self-heal and willowherb. 

Jasmine Dale’s Elements Survey – I enjoy translating the elements using these useful themes laid out by Jasmine to direct my focus and bring forth more emotional qualities. It also contributes to deepening my connection to the living world.  Using the elements survey tool deepens into the inquiry into the principles as well, as elements are named as a principle.

Sun sector map/overlay – so useful, I’m extremely glad I did this. This is my third season growing in this garden. I had been aware that one side of the garden is very sunny in the morning, the other in the afternoon, but I hadn’t observed it in such detail. The info I gathered from this observation helped me choose the plants that would be able to thrive in the conditions.

Wild plants as soil indicators – if I was doing this design again, I would pay more attention to what this is telling me about the soil, do a ph proper soil test, and try to discern what these volunteer herbs are telling me on an intuitive level about the healing I need. 

Design web – I loved this. It was probably a bit unnecessary, but I really wanted to try using the design web as a tool for uncovering more depth. It worked extremely well. I will definitely do that again. It enabled me to uncover the functions of the design in relation to my wider learning. 

McHarg’s Exclusion Method – A superbly useful tool. It enabled me to be thorough in my decision making, and helped prioritise and whittle out which herbs to choose. 

Materia Medica spreadsheet – I enjoy the way a spreadsheet helps me see a lot of information in one place. Learning about the plants using it has helped me feel more deeply connected to them. I recognise that its usefulness is limited. To share the knowledge I’d need a more visual format. To really learn the information in it, I’ll need to apply it though my sessions with learners. I really do learn best when I begin to teach. I like the idea of making something akin to the Colouring book for my own garden, that would be a wonderful resource to share. I’ll think about doing that as I go about planning for propagating my plants as part of my approach to good livelihood. 

Planting Plan – Really helped me space the plants well, taking advantage of that sunny spot in the centre. 

Phasing – Now, Soon, Later – As a simple form of implementation plan this worked well. It’s easy for me to refer back to now as I go along with implementing. I have written it out by hand on a postcard and popped it next to my screen, so I remember to get myself out in the garden when I’m deep in computer work in the weeks ahead. 

ETHICS:

Using the ethics as a tool in the evaluation phase, considering them in relation to the SPELLS Goals, worked well for me. I can see the connections between people care and fair share, where I am considering my need for generating income. 

A question came up for me in relation to the ethics in the last design that I’d like to consider here. ‘How do we experience ourselves as embedded in the living world?’ The response I experienced from this design is about reciprocity. I am in reciprocal relationship with the plants. I support them to meet their needs in the cultivated ecology I have created with good soil, water and light. They support me to heal with the gift of their healing properties that they offer to me as leaves to make tea with. This feel beautiful and regenerative. 

PRINCIPLES:

I used the principles in the options phase, so quite early on in the design. The insights informed the design decisions. I enjoyed this set of principles, they resonate with me around this function of connecting more deeply with the living world. They clearly demonstrate to me how the living world works. 

What was challenging?

Once again in this design, a set of functions of the design have emerged in the process. I now have a some questions about this – What is the relationship and difference between the functions of the design, and the aims? Why do functions seem to emerge as I go along, that don’t seem to make themselves visible in the setting of the aims? 

I think the functions are to do with wider learning. I wonder if as I go on into the next design if I can identify the functions more explicitly, and if this might help in some way. 

Keeping designs small is a big challenge for me. At the beginning I thought all I was doing was using a process to chose some herbs. This design has become about so much more than that! 

What would I do differently?

I haven’t really specified the yields I get from the design explicitly, although they feel implicit in the aims. I notice now at the end of the process I’m enjoying the yields of cut flowers more from my garden, as this design has got me thinking more deeply about what yields I get. 

Next steps:

  • Write about your SPELLS Goals to share with others
  • See Now, Soon and Later sections of Phasing in the When section. I’ll order herbs when I get back from my holidays
  • Go out into the garden, get a cuppa and sit and draw
  • Choose a framework for the next design which leaves space for goals to be set after observation
  • Try and learn a bit more about this relationship between the aims and functions
  • I like my designs to go deep into the learning, but this makes them longer. I wonder what I could have edited out of this design? (the design web, but it was so generative, however, the design would be fine without it). I wonder how to approach the next design with more  specificity?