I wrote this story several years ago when I was still maintaining an herb garden at the house I was living in at the time. The garden no longer exists, but the memories of days spent carefully tending the various plants still linger in my mind and heart.
An edited version of this story was published a few years ago in The Herb Companion – an international magazine about “the useful plants.”
One of these days I will have a new garden…and possibly a new love to share it with.
Growing herbs has never been a business venture for me, although there was a time when I had visions of actually going into the herbal business – selling herbal crafts and food products at local herb gatherings, farmers markets, craft fairs and the like.
Rather, it’s personal…as personal to me as the many memories I have accumulated over the years in my gardening projects. Gardening seems to come naturally to me – after all, what you can expect from a gal whose grandparents both owned farms; the daughter of a “good ole country boy,” a lass raised on homegrown sweet corn and fresh tomatoes ripe from the vine?
My father used to tease me about my “pokey stick” method of planting sunflower seeds (developed when I was a budding gardener at the age of six, and which some 40-odd years later, still has yet to fail me)…and to this day, I am still the only family member who has ever been able to grow cucumbers successfully – even in a pot on an apartment balcony. Speaking of cucumbers, my Grandfather Wolzenski – being of Polish descent – made the world’s best pickles, and always planted his own dill for that purpose. He passed away several years ago, but I still whisper a little prayer in his name when I transplant dill into the garden.
Considering my early upbringing into the wonderful world of dirt, I got into herbs at a ripe old age. I suppose it began when I started studying earth-based faiths. Pagans have a reverence for nature, and a special affinity for those plants which find their way not only into culinary and medical usage, but into our spiritual practices as well. Many Pagan retreats have herb gardens, and I can still close my eyes and envision myself back at places such as Circle Sanctuary or Camp Gaia…inhaling the heady scent of various herbs as I stand within the gardens, watching a summer sunset.
Coming as I do – via my paternal grandmother Mary Olmstead Beach – from a long line of loyal patriots who fought in the American Revolution and helped to settle this country, I have long enjoyed studying the history and lore that goes along with the usage of herbs. I’m sure that somewhere in the development of this “melting pot” we call America, one of my ancestors tossed in a handful of parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. Herbs conjure up a whole other era, another way of life, a time when people looked to the land to sustain them. In today’s world, when we seem to be hustling and bustling from one place to another, trying to keep up with the rat race, herbs remind us that sometimes we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Just spending a little time in the garden has always been a great form of therapy for me. As the saying goes…“when the world wearies and ceases to satisfy, there’s always the garden!”
But perhaps my true affinity for herbs comes from the realization that, for someone born without normal hearing, they make the perfect Deaf-Friendly plant.
Let’s stop and think about that for a moment. True, one doesn’t need to hear to enjoy plants. But as a Deaf person, my other senses get put to good use as a result of not being able to hear. Herbs appeal to all of those senses…with their various colors and shapes – the bright red blossoms of a pineapple sage, the perky little stars of sweet woodruff – they are pleasing to the eye; their wonderful fagrances tickle our noses – just try inhaling the scent of lavendar! Their various flavors, whether sweet, tangy, lemony, or refreshing delight our taste buds.
Deaf people tend to be quite tactile – we tap each other to get one’s attention, we hug each other during greetings. Herbs practically BEG to be touched. Brushing against a lemon verbena releases its sweet citrus scent, rubbing a leaf of peppermint reminds one of childhood trips to the candy store. There’s the softness of lamb’s ears, the pebbly texture of sage, the spikey bushiness of rosemary.
What better plant for a deaf person than an herb?
Not only do herbs appeal to my senses, they also appeal to my philosophy of life. I find herbs a perfect way of introducing people to Deaf Culture, to teaching them about our ways. They teach us about diversity, and acceptance. They allow me to share with others our differences, and yet our similarities.
There’s the slim, round, spikey leaves of onion chives versus the flat, broader leaves of the garlic variety – which teaches the diversity one finds not only in herbs…but also in people. Different…and yet the same.
Golden sage, purple sage, common sage, and tri-colored sage teach us this same lesson. What beauty can be found in the many different colors! If we have no problem with the mixing of the different colors of sages, or bee balms, or lavenders, or thymes in our gardens…then why should the mixing of different people, with different colors and different cultures and different backgrounds and different abilities be so difficult? Why do we look forward in excited anticipation to the new variety of a plant we introduced in our gardens, but shirk in fear at being introduced to a new person perceived as being different?
Ahhhh yes…if we would only treat people with the same love and kindness as we do the herbs in our gardens, the world would be a much better place.
No doubt a fear that crosses many people’s minds is how to communicate with a person who uses sign language. But we herbalists speak a language all of our own – a language that is taught to us by the plants we propagate. Herbs do not need a voice in order to communicate, and neither do we. I have been able to take an individual on a tour of my garden without uttering a sound.
By pointing out the bees buzzing around the blossoms, visitors learn the more common name for monarda. Sniffing and tasting a leaf introduces them to lemon balm, as well as the various kinds of mint. It’s almost impossible not to recognize the heady scent and spikey purple blossoms of lavender. I get a little help from a visual aid with the catnip…it sprawls over a clay figurine of a sleeping cat – placed there as a reminder of its main purpose in pleasuring the felines of the household.
By the time we have passed under the climbing rose arch, walked by the foxglove, and seated ourselves in garden chairs on the little brick patio, a bond as been formed – a bond that surpasses communication barriers, cultural differences, or perceived disabilities. We are simply people celebrating the useful plant…reveling in the miracle of nature and all its glory.
Such is the magick of herbs.