A religious sect known for their simple approach to life,
the Shakers are often remembered for their ingenious furniture design. However, their
greatest achievement was in gardening which developed into a successful enterprise by
growing, processing, packaging, and selling vegetable seeds and medicinal herbs to
physicians and apothecaries nationwide. Two centuries ago their practical views on
gardening stressed qualities that gardeners still value todaysimplicity, order,
purpose, and beauty. A Shaker herb garden can be created by following some Shaker
Choose a site. A level spot with a southern or southeastern exposure is ideal. Locate
near the kitchen for handy tending and using herbs.
Garden with good soil. Different soils require different mixtures of compost. Loose
soil requires heavy compost. Clay soil requires light compost such as lime and horse
manure. In 1835 Charles Crossman wrote The Gardeners Manual, published by the
Shakers at New Lebanon, N.Y., and stated, "Deep, dry, light, and rich, are the
essential requisites of a good garden soil; and if not so naturally, it should be made
so." Priced at six cents, the booklet educated American gardeners about the practical
aspects of gardening.
Sow seeds. Seeds can be sowed after the soil has warmed and the danger of frost has
passed. Never plant too deeply. Cover seeds with the best layer of soil possible. Keep
seeds watered to encourage germination.
Neatness prevails. According to Crossmans pamphlet, the Shakers compared the
garden to "an index of the owners mind," and suggested gardens be neat and
tidy; plant rows straight and beds square. Todays gardens with intermingling plants
randomly planted would be considered by the Shakers as creations of a lazy, complacent
gardener. Garden rows were parallel and straight, plants were spaced out in orderly
fashion, and weeds were not allowed. To capture the fastidious appearance found in Shaker
gardens, a brick edging, a low stone wall enclosure, or a picket fence can complement the
Remove weeds. The Shakers compared the cultivation of a garden to the cultivation of
the mind, so it is no surprise that they considered weeding a metaphor for spiritual
cleansingremoving weeds was like removing impure thoughts; cleanliness was next to
godliness. Today mulch is a good weed controller. The Shakers used mulch only as winter
protection and considered it unpure refuse placed upon pure, bare soil.
Keep annual records. Begin a garden journal in the spring. Note annual occurrences in
your area--when particular birds arrive, when others depart; the flowering and leafing of
trees and shrubs. These happenings can serve as an indirect measure of outdoor
temperature. Keeping planting and harvesting records were part of the Shaker belief in
order. Records remove guesswork and serve as references for timing garden tasks throughout
Visit your Growise Center for additional advice and great plant selections.
SHAKER GARDEN HERBS
SAGE--(Salvia officinalis) perennial; gray-green leaves; early summertime purple
flowers. Pleasantly bitter-lemon flavor; seasoning for soups, stews, meat dishes. Shakers
dried leaves for medicinal remedies for cold, cough, or fever.
SUMMER SAVORY--(Satureja hortensis) known as the bean herb; annual; slender
SWEET MARJORAM(Origanum majorana) tender perennial; knotlike shape before
blossoming in pink or white. Resembles mild oregano flavor.
THYME(Thymus vulgaris)hardy perennial, bushy low grower; hint of clove
taste; mauve flowers. Flavor meat dishes, stocks, breads, vegetables; popular French
BEE BALM(Monarda didyma) or Oswego tea--perennial flower in pink, purple, crimson
salmon, and white. Pungent mint leaves garnish punches, iced teas, and fruit.
LEMON BALM(Melissa officinalis) lemon-scented perennial; makes soothing tea hot
or cold. Shakers used it to relieve fevers.
ROSES(Rosa gallica Oficinalis) apothecary rose and (R. damascena)
damask rose were grown by Shakers for fragrant petals distilled to produce rose water;
lovely even as perfume and flavoring.
CULINARY SEED HERBSdill, fennel, coriander, and caraway were used for digestive
ailments. Fragrant foliage and tasty seeds are benefits of seed herbs.
Visit your local Growise Center for gardening tips and herbs to plant in your Shaker
herb garden. Create a Shaker garden and you will be reminded of a well-known Shaker adage,
"If you would have a lovely garden, you should live a lovely life."