It may seem odd to say this, but honoring loved ones started with a rock.
Behind the lodge was a wild area filled with weeds, plus some lavender and other herbs a local gardener Ruby had planted there. In the middle of this area was a cool round white rock about the size of a very large Pyrenees type of dog. I really liked this rock! I wondered how big it was – was this most of it, or was it actually a mammoth boulder mostly buried? Anyway, although hidden by weeds the part I could see also had a nice big lichen on it. Lichen are slow growing, so I also wondered how old the lichen was. I would stop by the rock whenever I was in the area and admire it.
When Ruby left she took her plants with her, but she had inspired me to create my own garden in this area. I planted a few veggies and flowers (this was before the permaculture garden was in) and transplanted some stray plants from other areas. I didn’t have much of an idea yet of what I wanted to do, but I just went out there and started. I knew that I wanted paths through the garden, and that one would go right by the lichen rock to give it visibility and prominence. I started to create an outline in my head of where the paths would go – the main path would go from the front gate to the lichen rock, then continue to the back gate and curve right to connect to the wood-fired sauna on the west side of the garden, with smaller paths branching off. What would happen on the whole east side of the garden was an unknown.
And so I worked on building paths, retaining walls, planting areas, sitting areas, and a small pond and fountain. I am not one to sew, paint or draw, but the garden was my creative expression. I didn’t have the whole garden envisioned at once; instead it came to me in pieces…what would be cool for this spot? What sort of plants do I want? How much sun does this area get? Where would be a peaceful spot to sit? It was pretty much a solo project unless I needed help (such as moving the old lodge bathtub into the hole I had dug, and my husband helped me move many wheelbarrows of gravel), but I loved the solitude. Digging in the soil, bringing in compost and planting, putting in irrigation lines, pulling weeds – it all was very peaceful and satisfying work for me (not to mention tiring).
I often thought of my parents during this time, both of whom had recently passed. My dad grew up on a farm and he always had a vegetable garden of some kind, from the time we were little until the end of his life. And my mom loved her flower beds! Now I was planting and growing both veggies and flowers, and it felt appropriate. They passed just before my husband Mark and I had purchased Willow Springs and began to renovate the property, so they were never able to see it while they were alive. However, I imagined them being here…In my mind’s eye I was sharing the garden with them, showing them what I was doing and talking to them. When the gophers ate all my garlic I could almost hear my dad’s voice saying the “dang gophers will eat just about anything.” I knew that they would like this garden and be proud of me for the many many days of hard work I put into it. I missed them, and creating the garden was a solace for me…a way for me to remember them while at the same time creating something of beauty that others could enjoy too. It felt the perfect way to be honoring my loved ones. I decided that I wanted to add lots of perennial herbs too, so that lodge guests could come to both enjoy the garden and also cut fresh herbs to flavor their meals.
About this time we took out the afore-mentioned bathtub from the lodge. It was a huge heavy iron pink thing, and just sat behind the lodge for many months. At one point it was used as an anchor point for the rope used to belay me when I was on the roof patching the many leaks (this was before the new roof!), but mostly it just sat there along with all the other remodeling debris. When the time finally came to clean up all the left-overs, it seemed a shame to just take it to the dump. It was just so sturdy and heavy. And pink! Then I had an idea…it would make a perfect pond!
As a kid we had a little concrete pond outside our back porch with goldfish and water lilies, and I would spend hours there – feeding the goldfish and looking for all the associated little critters such as snails and bugs. The pond had a little fountain too – of a boy pouring water from the jug that looked to us kids like he was peeing…So the pink bathtub became my pond. And just like the pond from my childhood, I added goldfish, water lilies, and even created a little fountain. This fountain wasn’t a boy peeing though, but was a rock waterfall.
I started contemplating what to do with the east side of the garden…My mom was a devout catholic and always had a Mary statue in her flower garden. Growing up, I didn’t really pay much attention to her, but as an adult exploring my own spirituality I developed an appreciation for Mary as an aspect of the Divine Feminine. With a buddha sitting by the fountain, a feminine presence represented by Mary surrounded by flowers would be a nice balance and a “nod” to my mom. My sister Ann gifted me a Mary statue that was the right size and that I liked, but when it arrived I had missed one thing…she was stepping on a little snake! I have always been bummed by people stepping on spiders or killing critters and never liked the whole snake represents evil thing. A resident came to the rescue and glued a fake peony flower over the snake-smushing foot, and I was pleased with the outcome. A bench and small memorial wind chime from sister Cathy rounded out the area.
The wood-fired sauna at the west end of the herb garden is a fun surprise. It looks simply like a water tank, until you notice that there’s stairs and a door…in fact, it was a fun surprise for us too! My husband and I had been living on the property for several months when someone asked, “What do you think about the sauna?” We replied “What sauna?!” The stairs were hidden in weeds and blackberries and we didn’t even know it existed! After clearing out the weeds, I put in a flagstone patio with small table/chairs, and a clawfoot “cold plunge” tub situated between the sauna and lodge hot tub. Some retreat facilitators are known to fill the tub with ice water for an invigorating dunk during their full-moon sauna night.
Now the Means Memorial Herb Garden is mostly done, although there will always be a continual renewal and moving around of plants and pulling weeds. Veggies are now grown in the adjacent permaculture garden, and the herb garden focuses on flowers and herbs, both culinary and medicinal. I envision the garden to be a “working” garden, where people come to enjoy, harvest, and learn. Currently the culinary perennial herbs include sage, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, bay laurel, curry plant, tarragon, thyme, mint, horseradish and chives. Typical summer annual herbs include as basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, stevia and arugula. Recently I was in the garden when guests came up to harvest Rosemary for their roasted potatoes. It made my day!
Seeing the garden be an integral part of an herbal medicine-making retreat would bring me joy. Current medicinal herbs include elecampane, chamomile, horehound, comfrey, white sage, motherwort, stinging nettles, lavender, mahonia, valerian, and echinacea. Several Hawthorne trees within the garden produce an abundance of beautiful red berries in the fall for making herbal oxymels and tinctures. I’d like to expand the medicinal herbs in the future, maybe even creating a area for Chinese herbs should they grow well here. I started making signs for some of the culinary herbs, but at some point I’d like to make nice signs to identify all of the plants for educational purposes. My goal is simply for guests to deepen their appreciation and connection to our plant companions, while enjoying the experience of the garden. Or maybe inspire them in a creative endeavor for honoring their loved ones.
If you are reading this blog, I hope that you will at some time be our guest at Willow Springs Lodge and enjoy the Means Memorial Herb Garden. I enjoyed creating this garden as a way of honoring my loved ones. I imagine that my parents would like what I have created and would be happy to know that others have enjoyed it as well.
Mission accomplished: Here’s the rock.