And go to Innisfree

IN

On Vancouver Island, Canada, in land characterised by the Trent river, there’s a working-farm-style botanical garden of 7 acres. They specialise in learning and healing, and food plants, running therapeutic courses, the ‘Green Dream Cafe’, and a farm shop for herbal remedies that are grown and prepared on site. It’s owned by a married couple Chanchal Cabrera and Thierry Vrain, who besides being an accomplished gardener and cook, have had fascinating careers in soil research, genetics, medical herbalism and nutrition. The Botanist, through the Global Botanic Garden Fund, is supporting the development and planting of a new space: 30m x 12m dedicated to native medicinal plants. The project will be led by Innisfree Botanic Garden’s apprentice herbalist Holly Jones.

Holly tells us a little bit about the locale: “If you drive over the island, you’ll see high alpines and old growth valleys; some 1000 year old trees that are part of the most carbon dense forest in the world.” The logging roads give clues as to why less than 3% of original productive, valley bottom old-growth forests remain; the salmon rivers, waterfalls, and rich shores which prompted the indigenous K’ómoks’ name for the area to mean “the land of plenty” are struggling against congestion with mud. Personal activism, plus conversations around stewardship, protection and restoration are very live in Holly’s community. New K’ómoks artists’ totems stand at key points, marking their traditional guardianship of the land, which is currently being recognised in a legal treaty process with the Canadian government.

Pacific Yew, and red cedars behind, at Innisfree

Holly is passionate about honouring the first nations’ place within this ecosystem, and what they can demonstrate to other communities about how to operate in connection with the land. She is concerned with the decolonialisation of herbal medicine – “Does everyone have the right to use traditional knowledge?” she asks, “And who do you ask permission from if you want to harvest food or medicine? Some first nations languages use few nouns or pronouns such as ‘it’. You can’t own something that is not an ‘it’, it’s just being. All living things have their own agency… Some languages have no word for wild,” she adds.

The purpose of the new medicinal garden is showing people how to integrate the native plants in their lives – over 50 species from all over British Columbia. It’s an interesting challenge when the plants are adapted to specific conditions – coastal alpine forest woodland meadow – each with its right soil. They will also give an additional home to plants that are threatened in the wild, such as the evocatively named ‘Fern leaved biscuit root’ Lomatium dissectum. The pacific yew Taxus brevifolia, its wood used for bows and its bark for the chemotherapy drug Taxol, and Western red cedars Thuja plicata, will be iconic trees in the plans. Holly usefully trained as a landscape architect so she has done the surveys and detailed CAD drawings of the design, seen here.

Holly’s design for the new garden

 

We’re delighted to be supporting such a sensitive and resonant project. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates as the project progresses.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

 

W.B.Yeats

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

The Native Medicinal Garden, August 2021

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