joe - workshop

Joe Hollis

Shepherd's Purse

Shepherd’s Purse

Introduction to Mountain Gardens

For the past 25 years, I have been engaged in developing a Paradise Garden on several acres of mountain woodland in western N. Carolina. For me, Paradise Garden is both a place to live and a way to live, and, above all ‘visionary ecological theater.’ I am trying to act on deep instincts and archetypal images related to human habitat and niche as a way of providing a sustainable values system with sufficient appeal to challenge the dominant consumer culture. The philosophy of this project is outlined in the Paradise Gardening article; it is the mother of all the other projects here.

Almost from the beginning, an aspect of this project has been the botanical garden of useful plants (in accordance with one possible definition of Paradise: a garden in which everything you need is there for the taking). An extensive research project was undertaken to identify the thousand ‘most useful’ plants which might grow in this bioregion. Acquiring the plants has been another big project: since many of them are not ‘in the trade’ I turned to exchanges with a network of private collectors and eventually botanic gardens worldwide. I originally began saving seed in order to participate in exchanges, but enjoy it so much that it has expanded into a business – see the Seed List; for current offerings.

Originally, medicinal was just another category of useful plants to me; but starting about ten years ago it became increasingly obvious that there was a crying need for medicinal plant nurseries in this country and that, based on my collection and location (this area has traditionally been the heartland of the medicinal herb business in N. America), Mountain Gardens was an obvious candidate for the job, so I began to make medicinal herbs a specialty.

About the same time, I became interested in Chinese herbs, as a result of a chance encounter with the book Chinese Tonic Herbs (Ron Teeguarden), which alerted me both to the existence of a category of health-promoting (as opposed to sickness-curing) herbs, and to their long association with Taoism (a religion/philosophy with which I have a long association myself). These seemed obvious candidates for the Paradise Garden, and I began ordering the herbs (for self-experimentation) and acquiring and learning to grow the plants. My interest quickly expanded to other categories of Chinese herbs: I now grow perhaps 500 spp. (a complete list is in process, and you can check its progress at Chinese Herb List), and stock about 300 dried, imported Chinese herbs (harvest of our own herbs, other than for seed, is just beginning). From these, I fill prescriptions and prepare a list of tonic/longevity and other formulas in tincture form.

Several years later, I became aware of increasing interest in fresh medicinal herbs. Since I had by then quite a large collection of medicinals in the garden, and was already wildcrafting medicinals for seed, this seemed again an obvious direction. I began preparing tinctures for personal use, and acquiring information, texts and apparatus. I now prepare over a hundred tinctures, mostly from fresh garden or native herbs.

Some of these are individually bottled and labeled for sale; but I shy away from getting into the tincture business. I am more interested in providing a service and a facility for persons who want to heal themselves with plants, in trying to develop a model for a garden/pharmacy to serve the needs of a local area. You can read more about the concept, and the reality, at self-help health center.

The garden continues to generate projects (I try to ride, sometimes just hang on): this year I will offer a series of workshops, plant walks, garden tours and other events; and the seed business wants to turn into a nursery, offering plants, rooted cuttings, dormant roots, etc. of those species which are difficult from seed; and I would like to dry more of my own herbs (they are so much more vibrant than what’s on the market), and to offer fresh herbs harvested on demand…

If you would like to help some of these projects to happen, and learn how to do them, see the Apprentice page. If you would like to come visit – that’s what I’m here for! Drop us an email for policies, directions, etc.