Want to grab a bag of hyper-local organic herbs in grateful return for a couple of hours light gardening? Sign up through the Meetup link to join the River of Herbs volunteer gardening team on Monday morning. Details are on the meetup event information.
I won’t be teaching here – doing that in the afternoon and the walk is full. This is for gardeners – no experienced required – everyone is a gardener because we all need to eat 🙂
Sign ups must be through meet up please and did bring along a bag to take your herbs home.
Some of the herbs available to volunteers in the foraging gardens pantry this week (in varying quantities) are:
Gardening is good for you. Whether inside or out, spring, summer, autumn or winter, it is not difficult to see why. Being in contact with earth, plants, air and water feeds the soul, tones muscles, lifts spirits and aligns us acutely with the cycles of nature. As research about biophilia, horticultural therapy, woodland bathing and related topics mounts, I wanted to share a few thoughts about the importance of gardening in the city.
Some of my earliest memories are of gardens – growing lupins and marrows, following snail families, the smell of radishes, cut grass and just pulled potatoes, cress heads, apples, maggots and bee stings, blackberries, sweet blackberries, weeding, muddy nails, stone scratched skin, daisies and rose petal perfume. I think that I have been a gardener since birth. And I think that you have too.
People speak about gardeners having green fingers (or thumbs), about knowing what to do with plants, about experience, having a feel for it and so on. Experience amongst gardeners is most certainly wide ranging but I am sure that we all have green spirit within us and that spending time in nature helps it to grow. I love to see that spirit grow within those around me. It can manifest as a quiet self confidence, improved physical coordination, lightness of touch, imagination, appreciation of others, interest in life, a desire to learn more and a need to be to nature – often. When green spirit reaches the level needed, I see people literally blossom. It radiates from them, they appear bigger, bolder and more connected to nature. It then touches those around them and invariably causing the creation of more beautiful green places and a deeper respect for nature. Green spirit is a wonderful thing!
Due to my somewhat selfish desire to fill the world with green spirit, I began a project in 2012 called River of Herbs. The aim was to help more people, plants and wildlife to flourish in the city. Over the years, I have run free courses for individuals, schools and groups, in the name of the project and I have trained and built up experience in Horticultural therapy. The aspect of the project which I have loved most is the herbal orchards of Park Frankendael. I adopted them from the city council in 2014; four fertile patches of land, occasionally mowed, care homes for old fruit trees, shady retreat for dog owners. They are behind the grand old Huize Frankendael. Beneath the trees were about 20 sorts of wild plants, some edible, some not, all ‘weeds’. The aim was to create a garden base for River of Herbs, to teach people about wild herbs – how to grow them and use them. From the start the orchards have been blessed by incredible volunteers. Some come and go. Some come, connect and stay for a long time.
All of the volunteers amaze me. We have welcomed research students, chefs, job seekers, couch surfers, retired people, dog owners, cat lovers, busy people, tourists, translators, writers, teachers, herb people, psychic people, IT people, number people, tired-out people, life/law/loved – struggling people, new people, local people, energetic people, artists, actors, jewelers, designers, whirlwind people, tranquil people, mature people, young people… so many people have volunteered and made their mark on the orchards. Together, we have laid paths, grown herbs and good friendships.
Lots more edible and medicinal herbs have been added to the orchard ‘borders’. Saffron, Sweet cicely, Japanese wineberry, Valerian, Motherwort and Sweet violets are probably my favourites. We have planted cherry trees, made Elder cuttings, nurtured seedlings and re-homed poisonous plants. We have built benches, a willow hut, a barefoot path, stung our arms and legs on nettles more times than I like to remember and drunk a lot of herb tea. We have worked together in the green, we have made a community garden and green spirit radiates from each of the volunteers. And how many of these volunteers arrived calling themselves a gardener? None. Well actually one, a wonderful chap who helped us to lay woodchip paths in 2014. But that’s not many is it?
The measure of a good gardener is not how well they clean their tools, how long their runner beans grow or how weed-free their flower borders are. To me, the measure of a good gardener is how far green spirit radiates from their being and strives to improve the world.
River of Herbs orchards are open to the public 24/7 all year round.
We generally meet there every Wednesday morning, 10.30 – 12.00 unless the weather is stormy.
Yesterday was the fourth meeting of my first River of Herbs course.
A tidy group of us met on Spuistraat and proceeded to speak with a few locals before launching into a little tidying up of earthy spaces, some herb planting and some gardening chat! The main aims of River of Herbs are to enable as many people as possible to grow edible and medicinal herbs in disused urban spaces and for those herbs to encourage pollinating insects into our city streets.
During this meeting we also leaned about how a range of other beneficial insects (such as Lacewings, Ladybirds and Ground Belles) can be welcomed into herb gardens, to control pests and keep the plants in good condition.
The current course members have all been planning and planting small (and large) urban spots, close to their homes, which we call Urban Herb Meadows. The current group will soon be ready to go fourth and offer their own courses to other interested volunteer gardeners. The courses are free and are funded by sponsorship and gifts.
If you are interested in joining one of our courses or getting involved in other ways, then please get in touch!
Here’s my first attempt at a rooftop bug refuge. It’s simply a long slim plastic plant pot, stuffed full of dry hollow stems which I found in my kitchen and around the rooftop planters. The stems are from long dead Fig trees, Honeysuckle, Chamomile, Hollyhocks, Clematis, Elder, Reed fencing and a few old and snapped Bamboo canes. I packed it all into place with some dead Apple tree twigs (not hollow but sturdy and available) and also some beautiful Pine and Alder cones, which I collected around town.
Once assembled I wedged it between the roof fence and a Goosberry bush pot. It faces roughly south and is less exposed than most other parts of the roof terrace.
I’m more used to making big wildlife piles in quiet corners of land so I’m sure that I’ll need to improve on this a lot. But for now it offers a place for native bees, ladybirds and other useful wildlife to lay eggs and find refuge.
Making Bug Hotels was one topic at this weekend’s River of Herbs meeting. If you’d like the booklet then let me know. For more information about what we did, some useful links and details of how to make well designed bug and bee hotels, see this post on the RiverofHerbs.org website. Encouraging bees and bugs into your herb garden is something not to be overlooked. They help to pollinate your plants, keep aphids in check and generally keep your plot (however small) healthy.
Today was the first meeting of the first River of Herbs course. We Al gathered in Oosterpark, sure some wild garlic bread sticks, tried to stay warm and liked at ways to get started with urban herb gardening that can benefit people and pollinating insects. It was so beautiful, snowy, bright and I was amazed that all but a couple of booked-on people turned up!
Have a look at riverofherbs.org for further information, to download the booklet every one received today and to get involved.
Here’s a snowy but thriving Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) photo, on the Middenweg as I travelled home from the meeting. I think this of the perfect urban herb for Amsterdam!
I’ve been planning for the February River of Herbs course today and it made me notice this tree pit as I walked to the shops. It’s on my street and someone has put useful effort into edging it with old granite cobbles, I guess to deter stray feet and paws. It seems that no one really claims it anymore and each recent year it’s looked like this: fairly barren and hosting just some self seeded Wormwood (from my geveltuin) and a couple of other plants. Perhaps I’ll start tending it myself when I find surplus plants in the neighbourhood.
The first gathering for the River of Herbs course will be on Sunday 10th February 2013. We will begin at 10.30am and continue until 12.30pm. We will meet in Oosterpark, in the bandstand (where thre Tai Chi group practice). So if it’s raining we’ll hopefully have a little shelter to start with. You can easily reach the bandstand by entering the park at the entrance nearest the Tropenmuseum and NH Tropen hotel. Keep the lake on your left, go over the bridge (hotel and museum on your right). Continue just a little way and you’ll be at the bandstand. Oosterpark can be reached directly by trams 9, 7 & 3 (Van Swinden, Linneausstraat stops). Trams 14 &10 stop at Alexanderplein, just a short distance away.
Please be prepared for all weather possibilities. I suggest you bring along a small flask of hot water. I’ll bring some herb bread or cake to share.
This time we’ll look at:
Choosing suitable sites/containers for the plantings that I’m calling Urban Herb Meadows,
How to get permission to plant in public spaces (should you want/need that),
Suggested plants to suit you and the location,
How to prepare for spring planting
How to build up your plant stocks for free or very low cost.
The course is fully booked but there’s a huge waiting list of interested people. Obviously, the idea of growing and using herbs in this way is popular. If any of the waiting list (or others) like, I’ll gladly send a summary handout by email, after the event, should it be of interest. Maybe I’ll post it here as a pdf, if I can work out how to do that!
The idea of River of Herbs is to share and spread knowledge in the hope that we can plant, maintain and safely harvest herbs in forgotten spaces of the city. By focusing on herbs, we can become empowered in many ways and at the same time can help urban neighbours such as pollinating insects.
I planned this start meeting to coincide with Imbolc – The time of year when new life begins to stir. The time to take action on ideas that have been incubating over winter. The time to do what you have been dreaming of. I look forward to sharing the powerful Imbolc energy with many of you and with the soil of this city.
The government funding, via Groen en Doen, has reached me already so a dedicated website for River of Herbs is now being created.
Any questions, feel free to contact me via Lynn.Shore@gmail.com or 0627596930
I have chosen two sites to focus on for the course which I’m running between February and June 2013. One will be Fraunhofferstraat in Oost Watergraafsmeer and the other is hopefully going to be a portion of Spuistraat, in Amsterdam Centrum. We will work on the two sites as a group, helping to spruce up the neighbourhoods and to create public examples which will hopefully inspire people to recreate the idea in their own streets.
By planting appropriate medicinal and edible herbs in dull patches of land (however small or large) we aim to make the place more beautiful, more attractive to wildlife, to increase urban food security and to encourage community participation with improving the immediate environment. I don’t envisage Amsterdammers harvesting heaps of herbs from doggy tree pits but I do see them harvesting useful seeds to grow in clean spots or use directly, taking cuttings from the public herbs, making spaces look and feel better and safer and of them learning about how useful and essential plants are to us on every level. All this in addition to boosting the wildlife population of the city – that’s more pollinating insects, birds & bats which feed on them and less mosquitoes! If people get something from these deliberately planted “herb meadows” then I trust that they will be better maintained and provide usefulness to people and wildlife for far longer (than the insect friendly plantings I notice here and there).
If you have ideas of other areas which could benefit from a River of Herbs makeover then please contact me via the comments box below, or directly by email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fraunhofferstraat is a street which I look at from my front windows at home. It’s a typical tidy Watergraafsmeer street that has a children’s play ground partway along and about a dozen bare treepits. the tree pits are so uninteresting and uninspiring, especially those running beside the playground. They are simply strimmed back by the council a couple of times a year and left to do their own thing for the rest of the time. When most lucky, we get Chickweed, some Brassicas and Fat Hen growing there along with poisonous Euphorbia species and heaps of low growing tree burrs. The pits get plenty of dog interest and they are sites where a small amount of litter collects at times. Because they are unplanted (aside from the trees of course) the pits beside the playground get a fair bit of human trampling. The Fraunhoffer tree pits are next to the road, a local street which is a turn off from the Middenweg (a main road into the centre of town).
I have been quietly collecting seeds from locally growing Hollyhocks, Poppies, Calendula, Rocket and other easy to grow plants. Whenever I remember, I strew a handful in the tree pits of Fraunhofferstraat and nudge them into the soil with my shoes. Maybe some will germinate in the spring, maybe not but either way I believe it’s a better fate than the seed being swept up and thrown in the garbage and incinerated. In the early spring the River of herbs group will start by looking at the site, thinking about the uses of the area and how the tree pits could be planted and simply managed with minimal effort and upkeep, to create a more useful and beautiful scene.
My friends at Funky Chickin hotel, Spuistraat 90 have been inspired by the River of Herbs project from it’s conception. They are located on part of a busy central street which could do with some greening. I have chosen that area as the second location. Just as with Fraunhofferstraat, I’ll be working closely with the local council to ensure that the herbs and exact locations chosen are suitable and useful and that they help to enhance the area in many ways.
On my quest to get this project going I’ve learned about tree pit adoption protocol, geveltuin (pavement garden) regulations, council spraying policies and realities, restricted plants, invasive plants, perfect city herbs and people who consider matching unmanaged geveltuinen with folks who’d like to tend them. There is a lot of interest and need, it seems. I’m really excited about starting with the group in February, I hope it takes off.
Some time ago, 24 people signed up for my River Of Herbs training course, which will take place during 2013. There are no more spaces available at this time. The course is being completely funded by a Dutch government initiative to help the volunteer greeners of this country, obtain training.
I’d like to set the dates for the meetings now. If you are one of the 24, please could you take a look at the dates listed below and let me know if you are able to make them. Either reply to this post in the comments box or email me at Lynn.Shore@gmail.com.
Clearly, I’d like the dates to work for as many of people as possible so please feel free to suggest alternatives. Timings to be 10.30 – 12.30 for all the meetings and the venues will alternate between Oost / Oost Watergraafsmeer (near Park Frankendael, Oosterpark or Linneausstraat along tram 9 route) and Spuistraat (Centrum).