Follow the development and growth of my new Herb Garden at Gärtnerhof Distelfink, nestled between the Vienna Woods and the River Danube
My Herb Garden started life as bare earth on the newly expanded field at Gärtnerhof Distelfink in St Andrä-Wördern, just outside Vienna, Austria. Now the beds are prepared, most of the herb seeds have been planted and the risk of late frosts is finally over.
Watch this space transform over the coming weeks and months!
Stratification is under way in the cold storage, 3 trays of seeds have been planted in the polytunnel (if you look closely you can see who with!) and the toughest seeds have been sown directly into the newly prepared herb beds outside. Now the seeds need to stay moist and happy while I practice patience and watch to see who sprouts over the coming weeks.
After nearly 20 years studying and practicing herbal medicine, focusing on the making, applying and teaching of herbs as medicine, only gardening in other people's gardens in the 3 countries I have lived in, I have finally found the place to settle and let my roots grow. So with a small budget for seeds and my deepest gratitude for the generous use of the land, compost, irrigation system, tools and other facilities and both manual labour and gardening tips from Gärtnerhof Distelfink, I am at long last turning my dream of growing my own healing herbs into reality.
This year is all about the sheer joy of planting seeds, tending them and watching them grow. If I manage to harvest and turn the herbs into home remedies later in the year then that is an exciting bonus, but not what I am focusing on for now. For now I want to hang out with, observe, photograph and tend to the living herbs, deepening my relationship with these wonderful plants.
The herb beds are only temporary this year, with my Herb Garden moving to a new home on the field next year. This gives me the opportunity to experiment, a space to try things out and see what works here and what doesn't.
The gardening begins:
Transforming a small patch of ex-monoculture field began with a winter of rest, no activity on the field, then the remembering of the dream inside me and the question "what brings me joy?", quickly followed by my question to Distelfink "is there a small patch of land on the new field that I could use to grow herbs this year?". I am deeply grateful and absolutely delighted with their generousity and willingness to help support me, especially doing the manual labour (after an already hard days work) and answering my endless questions about germination, cultivation and plant care. So help came in the form of working the two-wheel / walking / walk-behind / single axel tractor, the BCS, to till the earth into slightly raised 75 cm wide flat beds. Compost was added and mixed in with the topsoil, which was then raked over to spread it evenly. The beds were then forked to loosen up the compacted soil before being harrowed with the BSC to give it a fine finish to create welcoming beds for the seeds and seedlings. A mini sprinkler irrigation was added to the long bed and we are considering adding a single sprinkler to the bed patch soon.
Envisioning planting seeds directly into the soil, I was quickly advised that while that was suitable for a limited number of my seeds, the majority would fare better if germinated in seedling trays in the more protected and controlled warm moisture of the polytunnel, already bursting with activity for the seedling sale and the start of the vegetable box season. Wearing baby on my back, I realised it was also much more realistic to be able to plant seedling trays at a table built for working at while standing, than kneeling down to plant into the soil on the ground (that part requires childcare). So for a number of reasons I now have 3 seedling trays planted up and being kept warm and moist, awaiting germination in the polytunnel. The first seeds to be planted out, with more to follow soon, are Calendula (Calendula officinalis, Ringelblume) and borage (Borago officinalis, Borretsch).
So now I am observing, watering and waiting for gemination. In between I have been walking around the field with an observant or sleeping baby on my back to see which wild plants are about, as well as visiting the Danube woods just next to the field to breathe the woodland air and enjoy the shade on warm and sunny days, looking out for my famliar plant allies and for any new allies I could get to know this year and over the years to come. Picking the brains of the Distelfink team, I am also currently learning about soil preparation, irrigation and seedling care. While there is little more for me to do than wait, I spend some harvest days helping pack the CSA vegetable boxes and some farmgate sales days chatting with customers and sharing in our joy of gardening.
This these last few weeks the dandelions (Taraxacum officinale, Löwenzahn) have been shining. Everywhere I go they grace my path. From the tough ones between the cracks in the pavement, to the big ones in well-watered loose soil along the roadside and hugging the sides of the polytunnels, small compact ones on the hard well-trodden paths in the woodlands, to a sea of patchy yellow in the wild wetland meadow next to the field and the classic lawn dandelions on almost all uncultivated grassy areas on the field. Echoing so many young humans throughout history, one of my little one's first herbal encounters (along with the daisy (Bellis perennis, Gänseblümchen)), is the dandelion. She delights in exploring and discovering the flowers and seedheads, picking them, waving them about and the obligatory tasting too. I love the observation I was recently reminded of, that the dandelion represents the sun in its glorious glowing flower, the moon in its silver globular seedhead, and the stars in the wind dispersed seeds. The dandelion is also amazingly grounded, with its nourishing taproot connecting it deep within the earth. I love this plant, I love that it is so common it is available to most of us around the world, found in numerous surroundings, so bold it will push up between the smallest of cracks in the pavement and so generous in its multilayered medicine, from bringing delight to children (and adults) to nourishing us and the bees, supporting a healthy bowel and urinary system and so much more. Not a weed to eradicate but a strong gentle nourishing generous healing herb deserving of the deepest of awe and respect. And so the waiting for germination continues...
The Herb Garden is my passion and joy but will only get limited attention as I am on maternity leave for another year. With my wee one just a year old, I do not have the capacity to grow the quantity or variety of herbs that I hope to be able to in the future. So I am learning to embrace patience and take baby steps (as I watch my baby take her first steps) and learning through experience in preparaton for the creation of a more long-term functional, teaching, healing Herb Garden over the years to come. I am excited to share my gardening journey from the beginning with you and tell you the stories of what unfolds and grows over the seasons ahead.
"Wild Weeds and Healing Herbs on the Farm"
I will be giving spontaneous Herb Walks at Gärtnerhof Distelfink over the coming months, focusing on the wild and cultivated healing herbs growing there. Sometimes I will be joined by one of the Distelfink team for additional attention to botany, ecology and cultivation.
To join me on a Herb Walk at Gärtnerhof Distelfink or on other walks in the surrounding area, contact me for upcoming dates.
For a taste of some herbs that are already growing locally, either wild or cultivated, see my Herbal Gallery, with new herb photos from my local walks on and around the farm being added throughout the year.