A Healing Garden Project

Monday, 01 February 2021 By Kirsten Hartvig,

Heartwood Botanic is based in the Rachel Carson Centre at Emerson College in Forest Row. We run the apothecary garden which is part of Emerson's 22-acre biodynamic garden that also comprises a vegetable garden, an orchard, a memorial garden and ornamental areas, located on the edge of the Ashdown Forest within hundreds of acres of land that has been under biodynamic cultivation for well over half a century.

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The Biodynamic Botanic Garden is a collaboration between Heartwood Botanic and the Emerson College Trust with support from the Herbal Medicine Trust, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and ArbNet. The purpose of the garden is to unite botany and herbal medicine with biodynamics, and to create a peaceful inspirational forum for learning, healing and conservation promoting health and wellbeing for all living beings.

In the garden, we value all lifeforms and we cherish their companionship. We know that internal and external biodiversity is the key to health and harmony, and that being part of nature is the most important part of any healing process.

It is a healing garden where people, wildlife, birds, bees and microorganisms can all be nourished by the four elements that make up any garden – the earth, the air, the sun and the rain – and the myriads of lifeforms they create and sustain. Spaces where they can heal, thrive and learn from each other, each lifeform bringing their own strengths and challenges. Healing spaces where people can get back in touch with their own natural, peaceful self. Quiet spaces to enjoy the harmony of the biodiversity coexisting in perfect peace.

It is an inclusive, relaxed environment where everything grows gracefully and naturally, gently encouraged by human custodians.

Heartwood Botanic runs the apothecary garden and an extensive natural medicine library associated with the garden and our herbal medicine education partner, Heartwood Education.

In the apothecary garden, we champion the value of native plants, and have no concept of weeds. We see all plants as useful either as food, medicine, structure, mulch or compost. We use a no-dig system and cover any unwanted plants with mulch instead of digging them out, which is much easier than digging, and also means that nutrients are kept in the soil.

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Heartwood Botanic and Rachel Carson

Heartwood Botanic is the horticultural partner to Heartwood Education. Both focus on herbal medicine, ecology and conservation, and both are supported by the National Institute of Medical Herbalists Education Fund.

The Rachel Carson Centre is Heartwood’s home where we have our offices, gardens and dispensary. We also have an extensive library which is integrated in the Emerson library and comprises thousands of new and old books on natural medicine, science, philosophy, biodynamics, horticulture, conservation and anthroposophy. In the 1950s, Rachel Carson demonstrated the dramatic damage caused by the chemical weapons when used to kill insect or plant ‘enemies.’ She understood that these weapons don’t discriminate - they kill everything they come into contact with, and the higher up the food chain you find yourself, the more susceptible you are.

Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ tells the story of chemical agricultural sprays being made from left-over chemical weapons from the 2nd World War, echoing the way that chemical fertilisers were born out of 1st World War chemical warfare and explosives.

We feel particularly at home with Rachel Carson because we share the principles, she spent her life working for. We are continuing her work in the 21st century, and at the same time continue the work of the pioneer biodynamic farmers and gardeners of the early 20th century.

Biodynamics and Rudolf Steiner

The biodynamic system integrates the vitality of the earth and the food and medicine it produces with the health and wholeness of individuals and local communities of wildlife and insects, as well as humans.

It was established after the 1st World War when European farmers first noticed the detrimental effect of chemical fertilisers, and it was the first modern organic farming method, inspired by the philosopher Rudolf Steiner who emphasized that a farm or garden should endeavour to restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Steiner helped farmers develop nonharmful ways of farming and gardening that systematised traditional, natural farming methods and set them within a universal context.

Central to biodynamics are: crop diversity; avoidance of chemical fertilisers and sprays; acknowledgement of both celestial and terrestrial influences of living organisms; and the creation of harmonious ecosystems in which each part supports and feeds every part.

In the Biodynamic Botanic Garden at Emerson College, we respect all the other species with whom we share the space, and we acknowledge that without them we would not survive. We also recognise the role of plants as primary providers of food and medicine, and the building blocks of life (including carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and proteins), and we celebrate their vital role in converting solar power into an energy form that other inhabitants of the earth can use.

As Alanis Obomsawin (a Native American from the Abenaki tribe) said in an interview in the late sixties, quoting from a Cree prophecy:

“… the most affluent of countries operate on a depletion economy which leaves destruction in its wake. Your people are driven by a terrible sense of deficiency. When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realise, too late, that wealth is not in a bank account and that you can’t eat money.”

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Kirsten Hartvig ND, DipPhyt, MNIMH
Heartwood study centre manager and Biodynamic Botanic Garden curator
The Rachel Carson Centre
Emerson College.

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