Year-round gardeners eager to plant wonder what they can start in December. In the mid-Atlantic and upper South, choices are limited unless you have cold frames or a greenhouse, but winter is the perfect time to jump on the hot new trend of forest gardening. Celebrate your shady yard or property, or just a shady corner, by growing your own medicinal herbs and lovely forest ephemerals.
An exciting resource for would-be forest gardeners is Jeanine Davis' newly revised book, Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals, which now includes a six-chapter section especially for home gardeners. Jeanine is a university researcher, extension specialist and farmer from North Carolina. She and her husband establish gardens full of native medicinal herbs, edible plants, and beautiful native ornamentals. You can follow her adventures at Our Tiny Farm. She and her staff at North Carolina State University conduct research at a beautiful woodland garden on a research station in western North Carolina. At the Asheville, N.C., MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR, Jeanine and her staff will have a demonstration booth and give workshops.
Jeanine shows how even with just a small bit of shade on your property, you can grow some shade-loving herbs. She helps you select woodland plants that are beautiful, useful, and easy to take care of. Imagine having your own little patch of black cohosh, bloodroot, goldenseal, and ginseng to enjoy and make your own medicine from. I thought about this when my friend Thomas told me about his success using her book. Thomas and his partner Kele Tassinari manage Garden Medicinals and Culinaries, a great source of seed and information. Here's his story:
"The black cohosh was our first success. We planted in late September (which might have been a little early for Virginia) in about 75 percent shade on the side of a ridge. The black cohosh location was fairly steep, and well-drained. I planted it in with some naturally occurring Solomon's Seal and used a mattock to break up the rocky soil. I've since invested in a forester's axe as Jeannine suggests. It's great for clearing beds and removing tree roots. Even though the forest was clear-cut some years back there was a rich surface of moist leaf mulch. After digging and planting we covered the site with leaves again, watered them in and left them to do their thing. I expected the fall rains, the winter cold period and Spring to get them going. But in early November, I noticed they had popped through the leaf mulch and appeared to be thriving. Maybe it was the week of unseasonably cold weather we had in October. We'll check back in on them in Spring."
I have always liked the earlier edition of Jeanine's book and now I have hard evidence that the new chapters for home gardeners are just as good. This book would be a great holiday gift for the home gardener on your gift list. To whet your appetite, here's a short excerpt from the first chapter in that section:
You can order a signed copy of Growing and Marketing Ginseng, Goldenseal and Other Woodland Medicinals from Jeanine just in time for holiday giving.
Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she coordinates variety selection and new seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is also a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and Virginia Association for Biological Farming. She is a frequent presenter at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS and many other events throughout the Southeast. Her new book The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast is available online and at booksellers everywhere.
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