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. Over the past month, the beds have been maintained, all of the herb seeds have been planted, observing germination has been the highlight, pricking out and transplanting is under way.
Watch this space continue to transform over the coming weeks and months!
stratification is over, seed trays are all planted and other seeds directly sown into the herb beds on the field
as the seedlings germinated I watched for their "true leaves" to emerge before pricking them out
After nearly 20 years studying and practicing herbal medicine, focusing on the making, applying and teaching of herbs as medicine, 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 own 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 then that is an exciting bonus (my first mini harvest was chamomile flowers), but this is 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 happens.
Hard to remember with the current heatwave, but spring was long and cold, the coldest for 40 years, with wet windy storms interspersed by driech days and only the occasional day of sunshine. However, to my delight, the seedlings surpassed my expectations and grew happily in the warmth and gently watered protection of the polytunnel. Most have now germinated and been pricked out. With the start of the heat they were moved outside, with transplantion into the field still under way. The slower to grow herbs are still awaiting strong enough roots to be moved into their new homes.
cultivated herbs from seedlings trays to hardening off outside
The directly sown herbs took longer to emerge, with Borage (Borgao officinalis, Borretch) and Calendula (Calendula officinalis, Ringelblumen) fairing better with irrigation than the poppies, Red Poppy (Papaver rhoeas, Klatschmohn) and Californian Poppy (Eschscholzia californica, Kalfornische Mohn), who were planted later and have relied on my watering can during the heatwave. They are still in fierce competition with all the wild weeds they are sharing their bed with, while the irrigated herbs are proving a tasty snack for the slugs. Borage has just starting to bloom and Calendula is on the verge of bursting forth its magnificant colour.
field herbs (seedlings, flowering, field view, bird's eye view)
Meanwhile, while awaiting germination and the early growth of the herbs, in the moments between gardening, the wee one on my back and I had a few adventures with the local wild life, specifically with bees and snakes, as well as some encounters with wild weeds and healing herbs.
On a hot and particularly windy afternoon, a good friend and Beekeeper, Helene Polak came to visit me at Distelfink and as we were resting in the shade we saw that a swarm of bees was gathering nearby. Helene suspected the queen might have also been resting due to the strong winds, and sure enough she found and caught the queen while the Beekeeper brought an empty hive to place her into. The docile bee colony (or "beefolk", the literal translation of the German "Bienenvolk") followed her and moved into their new hive, caught on film by Helene here.
A few weeks later another swarm was caught by another Beekeeper on the field and I was able to witness this beefolk moving into their new hive too.
Beestings and Plantain
More recently, while learning about macrophotography at a workshop hosted by Apis-Z, my wee one was babtised by the bees, receiving her first beesting on the back of her head. Someone was able to quickly remove the bee and the stinger, then while I was checking and comforting her, I was given some Greater Plantain (Plantago major, Breitwegerich), which I chewed to a pulp and applied to the stung area, I repeated this for several hours, using the Greater Plantain or Ribwort (Plantago lanceolata, Spitzwegerich), whichever was easier to hand in the moment, replacing the field poultice whenever it dried up or fell off. I never saw a swelling, although it was obviously painful in the first hours and itchy the following day.
Ironically the sting happened as I photographed the less common but delicately beautiful Hoary Plantain (Plantago media, Mittelwegerich). I use the Plantains interchangably, prefering the pragmatic approach of using what is under my feet. It is my go-to field medicine for bites, scrapes and stings, and the Beekeepers at Apis-Z confirmed my own experience, assuring me that in their experience the sting is always significantly and reliably lessened with quick and careful removal of the sting and early and repeated application of Plantain. Thank you plantain for being reliably there when we need you and reliably effective as a first aid remedy, one of your many remarkable virtues.
Hoary Plantain, Ribwort and Broadleaved Plantain in flower
And so to the snakes. The first encounter this spring involved being surprised on a walk along the forest edge close to the Herb Garden, snake sunning on the path while I was distractedly caught off-guard, frightening the snake who went into a cobra-like attack pose as I jumped to the side in my own fright. I walked slowly away and we both went on with our day in peace. This was likely a common and non-poisonous European Grass Snake (Natrix natrix, Ringelnatter), based on its location and behaviour, although I cannot be sure.
Soon after we saw a big beauty at Distelfink, which other witnesses positvely identifed as a Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus, previously Elaphe longissima, Äskulapnatter), ones of the largest snakes in Europe. As we are located near water by the woods with plenty of varied vegetation around, it is no surprise that they live and hunt nearby. There have been several sightings of snakes on the field this year, a rewarding sight after the hard work of building biodiversity and a variety of habitats to create a home for a diverse range of creatures, little and large, flying, hopping, creeping, crawling, burrowing, buzzing as well as the slithering.
I assume the last snake I encountered was a younger snake (unidentified), as it was significantly smaller than the previous two. I saw this one sunning on the path in the woods before slowly slithering away, seemingly undisturbed by my presence. I feel privilaged whenever I see a snake, they remind me to listen to my instincts and that the wildness of life is closer than we realise, both inside ourselves and around us.
Long before the current heatwave during the long cold spring, the promise of change ahead came on the first hot day of the year. On this day I was given a spontaneous opportunity to have my first brief dip in the "Altarm Donau", an old cut off arm of the Danube. The forest path all the way to the swimming spot was lined with freshly blossoming Hawthorn (Crataegus spp., Weißdorn). Also known as the Mayflower and celebrated at Beltane, on the first of May. Late this year, but no less exquisite, the hawthorn flowers were budding and blooming beautifully.
A familiar friend since my time living and studying in Scotland, Hawthorn is member of the rose family (Rosacaeae, Rosengewächs) and gifts us one of the most beloved, reliable and gentle of heart remedies in its flowers, leaves and berries. I missed the spring leaf and flower harvest but was able to photograph them in their glory. I have been watching the Hawthorn since the emergence of their leaves on otherwise bare branches in April, enjoyed their extended flowering on higher ground up in the hills at the end of May and while escaping the heat in the Vienna Woods I came across the green and freshly forming berries just before the Summer Solstice. I will watch out for the ripe berries in the autumn and dream of harvesting and medicine making another year. Just being with this tree and its blossoms can uplift a heavy or burdoned heart. Thank you hawthorn for your gentle heartwarming beauty.
The Herb Garden is my passion and joy but can only get limited attention as I am on maternity leave. With my wee one just over 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 almost ready to take her first independent 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 be sharing my gardening journey from the beginning with you and tell you the stories of what unfolds and grows over the seasons, in and around the Herb Garden.
"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.