Patera Garden

by Danielle Charles

There is a particular sort of beauty expressed by a garden in the autumn. A beauty of a more stark and startling nature than that seen in other seasons. A beauty born from the contrast of growth with decay – lively bursts of color set against a backdrop of skeletons and spider webs catching the morning dew.

Earlier this week, I was given the great pleasure of leading a class at Patera Garden, a medicinal teaching garden created and lovingly tended by herbalist Larken Bunce. The garden serves as a medium by which students of the first year program at The Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, as well as the apprenticeship program, Herbs from the Ground Up, get to directly experience the plants they learn about – growing them from seed, lovingly tending them and finally harvesting and making medicine which serves the community through VCIH’s sliding scale clinic. The entire concept is a thing of beauty, and I urge you all to read more about it over at Larken’s Blog where she chronicles the adventures of Patera.

Anyhow, I set off early on Monday morning so I would have enough time before class to walk around the gardens and take some photos to share with you. It was one of those perfect autumn mornings where the air is crisp but the bright sunshine promises warmth. On my drive, I could see the little pockets of fog clinging to the valleys and the steam rising up from the rivers in big smoky clouds to a sky of perfect blue. The trees here and there provided vibrant bursts of color –  crimsons, golds and coppers – and as I drove the light flickered over me in that beautiful way that only happens when driving down a woodland road tunneled by trees on an autumn morning. Crumpled brown leaves seemed to be everywhere suspended in mid-air. It was a morning, in short, that leaves one breathless at it’s astounding beauty.

When I arrived at the gardens, the air was still and cold. Everything was covered in dew drops and certain patches of the garden where the sun was beginning to hit were sparkling like jewels. The first plant to catch my eye was Tulsi, or Holy Basil – an Ayurvedic herb that grows well here as an annual. It has an exotically spicy and sweet aroma that some liken to bubble gum and which begs you to pet it.

Just down the path on the left, the last of the Echinacea flowers were brilliant in the light, as thought they were glowing of their own luminescence.

In the far end of the garden, the sage next caught my eye. Covered in a million tiny droplets of dew, it was absolutely shimmering in the sunshine. I knelt down and inhaled deeply the crisp, sharp scent which cleared the sleepy fog from my mind and certainly did make me feel very “sage.”

Across the way, the violets sat looking into the sun all covered in their own dewdrop jewels. Their delicate green stems and precious little flowers looked so fragile in the autumn landscape – a last display of summer’s ethereal beauty.

Then there was the lady’s mantle all covered in that dew so prized by the alchemists for making medicine (which incidentally is the reason behind the latin name of this plant, Alchemilla vulgaris). It must’ve been hard going for them trying to get enough dew…

And anise-hyssop with her delicious tasting leaves to nibble on…

But it wasn’t the delicate flowers or dew dappled perfumed leaves that captured my heart in the end. It was the skeletons of angelica flowers – standing starkly in the back of the garden, adorned with spider’s webs and droplets of water. There’s was a beauty that made one’s heart ache in a very particular way.

And so, I leave you with the words of English poet John Donne,

No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace

as I have seen in one autumnal face